I'm a hopeless romantic when it comes to new years. It holds so much promise and potential, you can almost smell it. All being well, you've also just seen off the end of a year with a little downtime - warm, cosy hours spent with those you love most, or failing that a few people you don't totally hate. And yes, there should be good food, new books received as gifts (even from yourself if those people you don't totally hate keep getting it wrong) and maybe a few terrible movies watched... all in the name of rest, relaxation and regaining some energy and focus for the new year. I've been making writerly new year's resolutions for the last four or five years and while I never come close to achieving what I would like I still believe in doing
I don't know a writer who doesn't want to write more. It's in most writers nature to want to write more though there could be several reasons why, be it wanting to reach certain production goals or you already have a deadline to meet or you just love getting back pain or double vision from sitting at a computer for hours.... Seriously though, for some of you, you will want to write more because you're not writing at the moment or they haven't written regularly for a while, for others it would be more because you want to achieve something specific or you want to build a writing habit that sticks. I would like to think that for nearly all, the want to write more also stems from an acknowledgment that writing more would mean more happiness because writing brings you more joy and more creative satisfaction, because it's also true that the more you write the more you are creating, of course. Before we go any further let me remind everyone that creating stuff and being creative is a VERY GOOD THING. There are countless studies and research revealing the benefits of being creative be it writing or knitting or building furniture. It's good for our souls. While we all have a limited amount of time to give to writing (or any creative endeavour or anything) a new year is an ideal time to renew our commitment to writing, and yes, writing more however and whenever that is possible.
Enjoy writing more.
With all the above in mind I think it's important to stress that writing more doesn't always equal enjoying writing more. The enjoyment writing brings is not pure, nor is it a tap that is always switched on and flowing fast. As lovely as that sounds, imagine the flooding and need to go to the toilet from all that metaphorical water flow... It's just not sustainable! And yep, writing really does suck sometimes. It challenges us in a myriad ways, and of course the struggle to carve out time to write is no easy feat in itself when you have a job, dependables, a home to manage, and God forbid, a social life. There is always plenty to worry or feel overwhelmed by in life. So be wary of aggressively pushing yourself to write more. Be mindful that this can often mean more stress and not enough rest. It is of course another thing to add to the To Do list. And when it isn't "done" it becomes another thing to feel guilty about not doing... Equally important as resolving to write more is taking a moment to also commit to enjoying writing more. This could be achieved through starting a new project in a different genre, by experimenting with a new form of poetry (like I did with poetry this year) or just simply learning to set attainable goals and being kind to yourself when you find it hard (see below!).
Build a writing habit you can maintain.
Writing more and building a writing habit are two very different things. A writing habit is something that comes to you naturally, slotting comfortably into your daily life. Writing more could mean binge writing every weekend for a few months but then not writing at all for the last six months of the year. While the latter may suit some people's lives and goals, I strongly believe the majority of writers want to write regularly and consistently. Not only does this help progres their journeys so they get closer to what they want o achieve but it also helps ensure more enjoyment of the craft as you are doing it more often, and building something step by step in itself is satisfying and enjoyable. I personally know that I enjoy writing more when I do a little, a lot. Luckily for me this suits my lifestyle much better than blocking out weeks or weekends to write.
I have already written a separate post about building a writing habit that sticks
but my best advice is always to start small. It's much easier to build ten, twenty or thirty minutes of a new activity into your day (or every other day) than it is an hour or more. It's obviously also easier to maintain. They say you have to do something every day for ten days before it becomes a habit but I have found more success when I focus on doing something every day for two or three weeks.
There's something about those extra few days that really cements something from "Oh yeah, I have to do that now" to "Oh look, I'm already doing it". For writing, I find it also helps to make the time you do it the same as much as possible, and try to go to the same place each time. That said, I can often be found working on my fiction on my phone thanks to Evernote (one of my favourite writing apps
) when I'm waiting for a dentist's appointment or waiting for the kettle to boil. But again this is something I had to train myself to do - i.e. to open Evernote and not Instagram
- which arguably possibly took longer than two weeks!
All this talk of writing more and building habits has me feeling exhausted, how about you?
I've been setting myself writing goals for many years but I've never once considered factoring in rest into my resolutions, because at face value it feels contradictory to any goal to be more productive or build a habit, but previous years haven't been quite so busy for me as the last year. In addition to working as a freelance writer on three days a week, looking after my son the other two, and squeezing in writing and blogging around these days and weekends with my family, I started up WriteNOW Cards
so that is another pull on my time. Oh, and sometimes I like to exercise, see my friends and wash my hair. Rather than sacrifice one of my creative endeavours (writing, blogging or WriteNOW Cards - because neither are making any kind of big money at the moment) I have changed my goals to suit these demands AND I am still also promising myself plenty of rest this year.
Why? Well, the alternative is not pretty. Not only am I not a very nice or fun person when I don't rest, I am also a pretty shitty writer. I can't focus; I don't enjoy it; and I get distracted far too easily. It's essentially not really writing - more staring at the computer and writing a few hundred words before I hop over to Twitter or do some Internet shopping with money I don't have. Not only is this NOT writing, it's also not rest. Rest brings me the energy and the focus I need to write. Rest helps me enjoy my writing more. Most perversely of all, resting helps me write more. Don't ignore rest when you think about how you want to write next year. Ten minutes of rest (and I mean proper rest be it ten minutes of reading, meditating, yoga, sleeping, watching TV, crafting, or just sitting still and breathing) a day will almost certainly mean that for the following ten minutes you spend writing, not a second is wasted.
I'm lucky that reading is my rest so I know I will be killing two birds with one stone this year (and I'm all about multitasking especially when I can lie in bed doing it) but resolving to read more is arguably the third best thing you can do for your writing (after resolving to enjoy writing more, and also committing to resting too). It's very true that a writer who doesn't read is like a chef who doesn' eat. There's little doubt in my mind that nearly all writers are writers because they are readers, or once were. We write because we know how powerful, enjoyable and comforting it is to read. Through reading we learn, we escape, we grow, we relax, we imagine, we dream, we re-energise, we ENJOY life. Any writer who wants to be published dreams of a reader feeling just one of those things when their book is read. While we get all this good stuff when we read, as writers we also get so much more. We learn different ways to write (or not to write!). We learn about a book's plots, characters, structure. Our knowledge of language, tone, and prose grows. And the more we read the more we learn, especially if we read books of all genres and work by writers of all backgrounds. In other words, never, ever think that by reading you aren't growing as a writer. You doing just that.
I suspect that this article is starting to feel more like an overbearing To Do list than an inspirational overview of the resolutions you should be making, but in no way shape or form should these resolutions feel like burdens. They should all feel like things you will enjoy focusing on in the coming year... Apart from maybe this one. We are all different people with different fitness levels and a varying interest in exercise, but I feel it's wrong for us who do a lot of writing - a mostly sedentary and solitary activity - to acknowledge that all that sitting down and typing alone for hours on end (if we're lucky!) isn't always great for our health. And we need our health in order to write. Poor health - physical or mental - affects demanding creative activities, so please ensure you think about how much you're moving next year as you build your writing habit. Personally, I'm very fortunate that I cycle to work and back on my working days and nearly always go on a walk or cycle with my son when I'm with him, and at weekends. But I still ensure I do at least 3 hours of exercise a week because I feel better about myself when I do more slightly vigorous exercise like running and barre. Basically I like to sweat and get a red puffy face. But for you moving could just be starting a writing session with ten minutes of yoga or stretching, or it could be walking your dog for a little longer at the weekend. Don't start training for a marathon, just don't forget that exercise will help you write in a roundabout but important way.
Feel more positive about your writing.
Of all the resolutions on this list this one and the next one are the hardest. I know this because they haven't featured on previous personal lists of writing resolutions, and yet I know they should have because they are really the secret to a much more productive and beneficial writing experience. While we all talk about how much fun writing is and how much it is in our blood (and other such dramatic terms), I think most of us have a love-hate-love relationship with writing and while I don't expect to eradicate the hate in the sandwich (because I don't believe in miracles or unicorns, sorry) I do feel like we can make it a very thin layer of spread rather than a thick lumpy filling we struggle to chew and swallow. In other words, I am committing to trying to deal with the negative parts of writing in a more positive way.
I started tackling exactly this when I began thinking about creating WriteNOW Cards. In short, I was fed up of feeling down about my writing when I knew it was something that brought me a lot of joy (at times). And yet I felt I had a million things to feel crap about from not finishing my book(s!) to not having enough time to write. The result of this, of course, was me feeling very negative about my writing and so I didn't write, at all.
As I started creating the affirmation cards and using them myself, saying them out loud again and again, something changed. I started writing more and I felt good about it. Even when I didn't meet goals I set, or I got stuck in a plot hole, I felt more positive about finding a solution than before I started practising affirmation. I was also practising affirmation in other areas of my life (relating to becoming a mother) and so there were a lot of positive forces at work. In short, I realised with regard to my writing that I had a choice to feel good or bad about it, and only one would actually benefit my writing. My WriteNOW cards and ongoing commitment to affirmation is how I help myself commit to feeling more positive about my writing. I hope you can do the same!
Feel the fear... and write anyway.This is a natural extension of the previous resolution but it deals with fear specifically because fear is such a special, individual, all-consuming, selfish wotsit of an emotion it deserves its own little show. When I look back on my life before writing regularly I recognise that more than anything, fear was stopping from writing. It took a lot of big life changes - scary ones - for me to build the confidence to start writing with some level or seriousness and commitment and the whole time I was having a conversation with my fear. A year after working on my first book Shy Feet, I was moments away from publishing it and I took myself off to the bathroom and felt a strong need to be sick. I cried a lot but still the sickness from fear didn't leave me. I'm not sure it ever really does. As I explore new things with my writing, write new books and try out new forms of writing and genres, I am always going to feel fear. The key is to feel it, and then write anyway. I know now that fear is not going to kill me. But fear definitely has the power to stop me writing. That is the thing I need to avoid happening. That is the thing I need to be more scared of than anything.
Encourage others.I experienced a bit of a revelation recently. I don't like peanut butter. Like, really don't like it, as in I would possibly be okay with being allergic to it but then I could never make the sandwiches my son loves so much and I hate with a passion when I forget how much I hate peanut butter and my relfex makes me lick the life clean (because I love nearly all other spreadable things). Anyway, I also realised that no matter what other writers achieve, there is still plenty of space and room for me to achieve good things. And that there is a ton of good stuff in encouraging others to write. The more we encourage each other the more we actually encourage ourselves, if that makes any sense. Or maybe you're still stuck on my crazy peanut butter revelation. In short, next year please think about what you can do to encourage someone you know (or don't know on a social media planet) to write and to not let their fear stop them. I've learned through WriteNOW Cards just how incredibly valuable and uplifting it is to help others feel more positive about their writing. It makes me go gooey inside... gooey like jam, not peanut butter. Ew.
Be kind to yourself.
You are the only person who can stop you writing. Truly. Be kind to that person so that they always feel safe, encouraged, loved and worthy of all the joy that writing brings them. There will be plenty of times next year (and beyond) when things don't go well with your writing and you will feel like stopping writing forever, or maybe you want to punish yourself or you let that hate or fear thicken up a little like a nice cheese sauce, but if you're kind to yourself always, you will bounce back from these setbacks much quicker than when you haven't given yourself a ton of hugs (which is totally possible, try it) or a daily love-fuelled pep talk. I know many of you will think I'm talking mumbo-jumbo right now but I speak from experience. Affirmation saved me from so many darknesses and this last year practising positive thinking with my cards and through re-training my brain to be a more upbeat kind of fellow has led me to forgiving myself quicker, feeling more proud in what I do achieve, and yes, giving myself space to rest, read and ENJOY my writing journey.
So there's my little summary of the resolutions I think all writers should think about making... now over to you. Which new year's resolutions are you going to be making for your writing... or yourself!?