Monday, January 6, 2014

Resolved: To Stop Making Writing Resolutions

Happy new year! With the first January post of the year comes the near-obligatory charge to address the making of new year's resolutions. I'm not going to do it. Why? Because this year, instead of resolutions, I'm concentrating on a different "r" word--routines.

In my experience, resolutions, no matter how well meant, don't really change anything substantial.In fact, unless they're written down and posted somewhere prominent, they're often forgotten by Valentine's Day.

Routines do change things. Routines are like taking resolutions and giving them hands and feet. Routines lift resolutions up off the couch and shoo them out into the world to do their work.

Here's what I mean.

Resolution: I resolve to receive a publishing contract for my novel this year.

Really? Unless I choose to self-publish, that goal is out of my control. I can't make a publisher offer me a contract, any more than I can make them pluck my manuscript out of the slush pile and read it in the first place. But what I can do is make sure the novel is constantly in circulation, constantly in motion, constantly landing on someone's desk.

Routine: I will take action every week/month/quarter to give my fiction proposal the best chance of being seen by the right publishers. That's something I can do. I can research publishers and narrow down what they're looking for. I can craft and polish my query letter and proposal until they sparkle. I can work with my agent to make sure the proposal is being sent to the right pairs of eyeballs. I can set appointments to meet with editors at writing conferences. While I can't make the proverbial horse lean down and take a sip, I can do plenty of things to lead him to water and make that water look mighty appealing and thirst-quenching to a thirsty horse.

Here's another example:

Resolution: I will finish writing my second novel.

The problem with this resolution is that, not only is it vague (what constitutes "done," anyway? So many words written, no matter how rough? Polished and shined to perfection?), but I won't know for months whether it's a realistic aim. By December 2014 when I look back and say "I did it" or "I didn't do it," it's too late to make any necessary mid-course corrections. However, if I recast it . . .

Routine: I will write at least 500 (or 1000 or 250) words a day on my novel.

That's a goal I can control. When evening falls, either I've done it or I haven't. The result may be a finished novel, or it may turn out to be a darn good start. Either way, the routine of writing X number of words a day is in my control, even when the result is not.

When it comes to your writing, do you tend to make resolutions or set routines (or both, or neither)? How will you keep your productivity high in 2014?


Mary Jane Honegger said...

I think your resoluciton to write so many words a day is write on! (Pun intended.) My problem is letting life interfere. I remember reading that Jack London wrote a set number of words each day whether sick, traveling or having company visit. He would stay locked in his rooms and tell his guests to enjoy themselves until he was done with his writing. That is my resolution this year. Good luck to all you writers out there in 2014!

Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

Great advice Jenny, and you will achieve your goal. Thank you for inspiring me today. I have a new plan of getting through ten pages of revision a day. I'm at the half way mark, and so by June, I plan to be done, DONE, and on to the next book. While I do not know what that is yet, I will have a plan in place. This is the first year that my resolutions have nothing to do with food!