Writers: Focus Your New Year’s Resolutions on You, Not Your Wordcount

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Every January, many writers—including me—list their writing resolutions for the New Year. These goals often focus on publication and productivity, such as:

“Submit my completed novel to 15 agents.”“Write 3 short stories.”“Enter 2 speculative fiction contests.”“Write a new blog post twice a month.”“Finish the first draft of my new novel about a 3-legged kangaroo caught up in a post-apocalyptic multi-level marketing scam selling liver-based skincare products and plant-based ammunition, set in Barstow.”

While these goals are admirable and meet the requirements people often suggest for goals (specific and quantifiable), they tend to focus on output, while ignoring input. Quantity over quality, if you will. Production over R&D (research and development).

Word count over skill mastery, inspiration, or creative growth.

Typically, my annual goalsetting exercise seems to involve searching for last year’s goals, reading through them, saying “Hmm,” copying and pasting them into a new document, then changing the year at the top of the list.

That either proves I’m brilliant at setting goals, or lousy at meeting them. Either way, it’s a tad unsettling. If you feel the same way, maybe it’s time to change up how we set goals.

Instead of word-count or publishing goals, perhaps our resolutions should be designed to make us better writers.

Let’s say we met last year’s goal and wrote 3 short stories. Great! But were they any good? Was each one more compelling than the last? Did we learn anything from the experience that made us a better writer? Try a new technique? Experiment with character development? Tackle a different genre? Push out of our comfort zone?

Or did they sound like everything else we’ve written? Have we (gasp) plateaued?

Maybe this year, the question shouldn’t be “How much can I write?” but “In what ways do I want to become a better writer?”

What do you suspect, deep in your heart of hearts, are your writing weaknesses? Do you spend too much time on description? Have you been told your characters seem distant? Does memoir or personal essay writing sound appealing but terrifying at the same time? Do you have trouble finding that elusive work-life balance? Need a confidence boost? Does grammar hate you as much as you hate it? Or maybe you are afraid to show your writing to anyone but your mom and your dream agent (who, by the way, is the last person who should ever be the first person to read your manuscript).

Once you’ve identified some areas where you would genuinely like to “up your game,” brainstorm ways to do exactly that.

If you’re looking to sharpen specific aspects of your writing skills, maybe your goals could include reading a book on writing craft, attending a workshop or conference, signing up for a continuing education writing course through your local college/university, or spending one afternoon a month reading blogs or websites about writing.

If it’s a writing connection or community you need, maybe this year you can join a local writing group, go to a writing retreat, or join/start a critique group, book club, or writers-only coffee klatch.

Are you desperate for some inspiration? Read a book on the artist/writer life. Promise yourself a trip to a place that inspires you or your novel. Or subscribe to (or read online) a literary magazine to see what other authors are doing in your genre. (A lit mag lets you experience a ton of authors and styles in small bites—perfect if your time is limited.)

Do you need to take care of yourself mentally? Maybe your goals could include learning some mindfulness techniques or adopting a short routine to put yourself in a creative mindset when you sit down to write. Or maybe you need to commit to hiring a babysitter once a week to give you 4 hours of uninterrupted writing hours. Or perhaps you can prioritize a “thinking about my book” walk through your neighborhood park once a week.

Let this be the year your goals center on YOU and what you need to strengthen your writing life, rather than on wordcount or arbitrary publication targets. Who knows? This might be the year your resolutions are actually goals you look forward to keeping.

For more thoughts on making resolutions that focus on your needs rather than on other people’s expectations for you, check out Rachel Dempsey’s recent post on our RMFW blog: “The Resolution Revolution.”

Happy New Year!

[Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash]

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