How to Rock Your Resolutions

New year
Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/cydcor/

Every year millions of people make New Year’s resolutions on January first. And by January thirty-first have completely forgotten what those resolutions were.

I’ve been guilty of this.  As the new year rings in, I create this “wish list” of things I want, only to shamefully admit failure within a few weeks.

If I even remember what those resolutions were a few weeks later.

But why do we do this?  It’s estimated that somewhere between 80 and 90% of New Year’s resolutions are broken within a couple of months at the most.  I mean, if we want something badly enough to put it on a list of things we want (Lose weight!  Get more exercise!  Write a book!), why is it so hard to stick with it?

Here’s what I think:  when we come up with these resolutions, we don’t often give thought to whether we are willing to do what is necessary to accomplish them.

For example, I can say I want to lose 25 pounds and it sounds great!  Until I realize what I will have to do to lose those 25 pounds.  Dessert every night?  Nope.  Dinners out every Saturday at my favorite Mexican restaurant?  Nope.  The ability to binge eat through a Netflix marathon every weekend?  Nope.

Suddenly, I’m not nearly as motivated to lose weight as I was when I so naively added it to my list of resolutions.  Simply because I’m not willing to do what’s necessary to accomplish that 25 pounds of weight loss.

Writer’s Resolutions

Is one of your resolutions to write a book this year?  To be successful, you need to decide if you’re willing to do what’s needed to get that book written.

It might mean turning down social engagements on weekends, so that you can write, because you have a full-time job, a family with lots of activities, and don’t have time to write during the week.

It might mean that writing a chapter each week becomes more important than vegging in front of the TV every night.

It might mean choosing to write in your car during your lunch hour rather than going out with your coworkers every day (which might actually also help that 25-pound weight loss goal, coincidentally!).

What if your resolution is even loftier than one book?  What if you resolution is that you’re going to quit your day job and become a full-time writer by the end of this year?

Goals like this one, which are huge and life-changing, require even more thought and planning to ensure that you have even the slightest shot at success.  You’re going to have to know where your income will come from (the writing or somewhere else?), how much time you’ll devote to writing, whether you’ll solely write fiction, or will you write nonfiction or do some other kind of work to supplement your income?  But the #1 question is:  Am I willing to do what is necessary to fulfill this resolution?

Ask Yourself These Questions

So how can you tell if you are committed to doing what is necessary to accomplish the resolutions you make?  Ask  yourself the following questions…and be honest.  If you try to play Mr. or Ms. Committed when you really aren’t, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.

  • Is this resolution something I really want, or something I feel is expected of me? While your best writing friend may write full time, if you’re honest with yourself, you might find that you don’t really want to write full time.  Perhaps you love your day job or enjoy the social aspects of working outside the home.  Don’t make resolutions based on what others tell you you should want or what you think is expected of you.
  • Am I really willing to do what is required to accomplish this resolution? Starting a Twitter account and Facebook author page might be a great resolution if you’re working to build your tribe.  But if you don’t know a tweet from a hole in the ground and hate Facebook and aren’t willing to put in the time to maintain it and interact with others, they will just grow stagnant when you get tired of them.
  • What’s my motivation regarding this resolution? If you’re not “all-in” in terms of being driven to follow through with your writing resolution, you’re going to end up forgetting all about it within a month or so.  If your resolution is to write an erotic novel this year and your motivation is purely the idea that erotica sells, but you can’t stand the genre, you can almost guarantee your failure to keep this resolution.
  • Is the timing right for this resolution?  If you’re a tax accountant, setting a resolution on January 1 to complete a 100,000-word draft of your novel during the first quarter of the year might be really bad timing.  Think about your other commitments before rattling off resolutions that are destined to fail because you simply don’t have enough time in a day.
  • What am I willing to give up and not give up in order to accomplish this goal/resolution?  This one is pretty self explanatory.  Really consider what you might have to give up to be successful. You may run into something you’re not willing to give up that will make your particular resolution impossible.  Don’t set yourself up for failure.

By asking yourself  these questions and really being honest about the answers, you can vet those resolutions up front and have better chance of success by picking resolutions you are truly committed to.

What if You Already Made Resolutions This Year?

I get that it’s nearly mid-January already, and you could very well have named your obligatory resolutions a few weeks ago.  Are you still going strong?  Maybe these are the right resolutions for you.  Have they already started petering out like a forgotten gym membership?   Go through the above questions and see which resolutions might fit and be worth salvaging (or revamping) and which you just aren’t willing to do the work on.

Don’t worry if you discover that you’ve made a  mistake with a few of your resolutions (or all of them!).  You’re armed now with more knowledge about what makes resolutions worthy of your time and efforts! As far as I’m concerned, resolutions aren’t just for January 1. A good resolution works any time of year.

So, readers, are your resolutions rockin’? Or do they need some revisions?  Let us know in your comments!

Rock Your Writing!

~Shannon McKelden

How to Achieve Your Writing Goals This Year

How to Achieve Your Writing Goals This YearThis is the year. The year you’re finally going to:

  • Finish that book.
  • Write that book.
  • Stick to a writing schedule.
  • Get an agent.
  • Self publish.
  • (Fill in the blank.)

You get the idea. It’s New Year’s, the time of resolutions. We resolve that this year will be different — not like last year, where we made up a list and didn’t follow through.

Or the year before that. Or the few years before that, really. 

The definition of insanity.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, but expecting different results.  In other words, saying this year will be different, but approaching it the exact same way (with a list and a lot of resolve)… which has almost no chance of succeeding, because the process itself is flawed.

That doesn’t mean “don’t make resolutions”, mind you.

It means change your approach. 

What do you want?

First off, you’ll want to tighten your resolution up and create a specific goal, one with a clear marker of accomplishment.  Saying you’ll finally write a book this year is good, but also vague.  Pick a project. If you don’t have a project, might say you’ll want to write one type of book, in rough draft, by the end of the year.  So instead of “I’ll write a book this year” you can say “I will write one Epic Fantasy novel, in rough draft, by December 31, 2015.”

Then… WRITE. IT. DOWN.

Seriously. Written plans are twice as likely to succeed as unwritten ones. Putting it somewhere you’ll see it (and actually register it and refer to it) would be even more helpful, but the act of writing it down is a crucial first step. 

Why do you want it?

The next question (the Motivation to your Goal, for my fellow GMC fans!) is:  why do you want it?  And what’s the why behind the why?

Knowing what motivates you — why the goal is truly important — is often the key to what’s standing in your way. The more important it is to you, the scarier it is. The more afraid you are, the more you’ll find yourself sabotaging yourself, actively or passively, to try and escape the perceived pain of the achievement (or failure).  On the other hand, if it isn’t that important to you (or if you haven’t identified why it is), the more likely you are to get sidetracked by other shiny objects.

So why do you want to write?  Don’t just think about it.  Write that down, as well.

What are your pain points and obstacles?

You don’t sit down and write a book in one clip. (At least, no writer I know does!)  Books are made of chapters, which are made of scenes, which are made of sentences, which are made of words. It’s a cumulative effort. If you’re the planning sort, outline. If you’re not, at least have a rough idea of how many words you’ll need to complete by the end of the year to get a ballpark estimate. (I would also strongly recommend at least sketching out preliminary plot points, so you know where you’re heading.)

Then, look at the last year. What stopped you from writing? What do you know is a stumbling block? For me, writing fiction after lunch is a crap shoot: my natural energy is low until about 5 pm. I’m more likely to get that scene written first thing in the morning or after 8 pm.  Also, if I’ve got more than three calls scheduled in a day, I’m usually too brain dead to accomplish anything… so if I didn’t get writing done first thing in the morning, it just isn’t getting done.

What’s stopping you?  Lack of plans?  Lack of energy?  The dreaded inertia, where you know you “should” write but you either find something more fun to do, or convince yourself that something unimportant “must happen now”? 

What’s your plan?

If you know you self-sabotage, for example, when you’re about to say “yes” to a pointless project in order to avoid writing, make sure you say NO. Write down: “if so-and-so asks me to run the PTA walkathon, I will say no.  If Carol Sueann says they need me to be treasurer for the RWA chapter, I will say thank you, but I can’t this year.  If Bob from accounting asks me to join the bowling league, I will say I’m already booked evenings.”  Writing down your plan, again, will make you more likely to actually pull it off when the moment arises.

More than how you’ll avoid problems, write down your plan to actually execute your resolution.  Want to write a book this year?  What will that take?  Let’s say you’re writing a 100,000 word high fantasy novel rough draft.  Will you need to write an outline or do research?  How long will that take?  You’re looking at around 400 pages of rough draft.  Will you have a daily word count?  Do you have time to rest and replenish?  When and where will you get writing (and rest! Don’t forget to schedule rest!) done?

Who is on your team?

I know, I know… I always say this. But I will keep saying it until it’s etched in your brain.

All writers write alone. No writer succeeds that way.

If you really want to pull off your writing resolution, you need a support network.  That can mean a critique partner, or group.  Beta readers, if need be. But most importantly, it means people who believe in you, and who hold you accountable.  These do not need to be the same people, but it helps if they are.

In Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habitthey discuss the need for belief.  That does not mean faith or metaphysics. It simply means that you accomplish the habit because you believe that it can be accomplished, and that you have what it takes to do so.  If you don’t, you can establish the routine, and then keep it up if you’ve surrounded yourself with key people that you trust who do believe.  In essence, they believe in you until you do.  These are people whose opinions you trust. Much as you may love your mother, if she says “well, of course you can write a book!” and you feel like she’s just saying that because she has to, the belief will have a lot less weight with your subconscious than a fellow writer whose work you admire, even if she is unpublished.  Find online writers or face-to-face meet ups, but be sure you have a network. 

When will you reach out?

Having the team won’t help if you’re not communicating.

Since many writers are introverts, what often happens is, the writing will get rough, we’ll suddenly become convinced that what we’ve got is utter crap, and by God, we’ll just retreat into our hamster balls and isolate.  Telling someone we’re in trouble is tantamount to admitting we’re impostors: that our writing truly is crap, and the people who we admire and respect will suddenly realize that, as well.

Write down a list of “I have lost complete perspective when…” signs.  Set regular check-in dates with your support network.  And show someone your work sooner than you think you should if you find yourself getting stuck and falling way off track.

Which leads us to the final point… 

If you want to change it, you have to track it.

If you want to write that book by the end of the year, then you need milestones.  You need to set some smaller goals — those “one bite at a time” chunks that time management pros keep nattering on about — and then set some deadlines.  You’ll also want to check in every week.  (Yes, every week.)  Avoid the very nasty habit of falling behind for a week, and then saying “I’ll write twice as much next week.”  Give yourself plenty of buffer room, and make the goals manageable (and then maybe double the time, especially if this is your first book.)

The key is to start giving your subconscious some “wins.”  Meet your admittedly easy goal a few weeks in a row, and suddenly, your subconscious will start thinking “I am a person who meets her goals.”  It generates momentum.

If you aren’t meeting your goals, checking in weekly will help you figure out how you got off course. That examination will also help you discover how to get back on course: whether it’s talking to a mentor or critique partner, doing a little more research, or getting a little more replenishment (and adjusting your timelines accordingly.) 

You can do it.

Count me among those who believe in you.  I think next year is going to be an amazing year for writers.

So… what’s your resolution for the upcoming year — and what are you going to do about it?