As a writer, I am only as good as my self-discipline. Over the years, I’ve learned that without daily habits, I might as well call it quits. If you’re in the habit of making New Year’s Resolutions, consider adding some of these to your list.
- Measure activity, not results. As a writer, your job is to share your truth, not worry about the outcome of your work. The first goal of a writer is to sit down and do the work, no matter how scary or hard it may be. When you do this, you almost always create something better and more honest than worrying about “what will people think?” So, write what moves you and leave the results to the readers.
- Tell the truth. No matter what, regardless of what is at stake, we must create something that is true, both to us and to the world. That means not only to be honest but to true to oneself. If something feels wrong, don’t do it. Your gut is the only thing that separates you from a robot. Try to trust it and be wary of the quick and easy route that leads to success (it doesn’t).
- Write what scares you. There is something powerful about leaning into fear and doing the thing that petrifies you. Nothing stirs the emotions of a reader like writing “from the heart,” as they say. Don’t hold back now. This is the year where you show all your scars, and maybe people will thank you for it. Regardless, you will be sharing your truth and that is enough.
- Don’t take yourself so seriously. I am guilty of this myself, but the truth is some of the best writing in history has a sense of humor. There’s nothing wrong with making the reader laugh. If all you’re writing is the facts, then you’re a reporter, not a writer. Which is fine, unless you want to create something that tests the boundaries of the status quo, something that goes beyond “just the facts.” In which case, you had better be funny.
- Try a new genre. Are you a business advice writer? Try memoir. A novelist? Consider journalism. Whatever you are comfortable with will ultimately cause what you create to stagnate, unless you infuse it with some novelty. Honor your calling as a creative and test the boundaries a little. Push yourself and see how you grow. As for me, I’m trying my hand at fiction.
- Write when you don’t feel like it. Professional writers don’t just write when inspiration strikes them. They offer themselves no excuses and do the work, no matter what. You need to do the same. Show up every day, without fail, as often as you can. When you don’t feel like it, do it anyway. This is how you will develop the discipline that turns you from an amateur into a pro. If you do this, you’ll do what so few are able to do. You will turn your passion into a habit.
- Do your research. It’s not enough to just “write what you know.” You have to expand what you know. Read a book or two, for crying out loud. Don’t merely pontificate. Tell us something we haven’t heard before, something we won’t hear unless you take some time to ask important questions like “why?” and “how?”
- Rewrite until it hurts. Let’s face it. Nobody is brilliant on the first draft. And the second one after that usually sucks, too. This is okay — it’s normal, even — because this is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t consider yourself done until you’ve put in at least several hours and a few drafts in to whatever piece you’re working on. Remember: all good writing is rewriting. Everything else is just prologue.
- Shut up. Take some time and listen — to what people are saying, to what you’re reading, and to what you’re writing. It’s all trying to teach you something. Pay attention, shut that big mouth of yours, and open your ears once in a while. Learn from your surroundings, then use it all to make your writing better.
- Read widely. This isn’t just research, it’s practice — honing your craft by studying the masters who came before you. Pick a book that didn’t just pop up on your Amazon list; read a classic or something that has nothing to do with your field. We base our careers on words, so the best thing you can do is absorb as many of them as possible from as many different sources as you can.
- Fast from social media. Get off Twitter or Instagram and spend a few hours a week writing. Not your platform or your growing contingent of Internet followers, but the the thing that really matters: the writing. No one will thank you for this, which is precisely why it’s important. You will feel better, and the work will improve (promise). So, take a brief break — at least a week — from the noise and focus just on the work.
- Break a rule. Write in an unusual voice or depart from a norm. Stop using commas. Get rid of all adverbs. Do something that causes others, maybe even yourself, to feel uncomfortable. Don’t worry; this isn’t a new style — it’s just an experiment. In the discomfort, we grow. So, mess with the status quo, and see what happens. It could be good, really good. Or maybe not. Regardless, you’ll learn something.
- Publish something. An eBook, a manifesto, a full-length book. If you’ve never put your work out into the world in the form of a publish book, it’s time. Nothing grows a writer like shipping. Yes, it’s hard and scary and you probably aren’t ready. But do it anyway. Enough with the works in progress and plans to publish “someday.” It’s time. You’ve got this.
- Make money. You heard me. Set a goal to actually earn some income from your writing this year. I remember the first year I set this goal — it changed my life. Our son was born, and seven months later, I was making plans to quit my job and become a full-time writer. Amazing things happen when you set a goal, chart a course, and stick to it.
- Start a blog. Blogging is an essential craft for the modern writer. It helps you practice in public, get discovered, and build your fanbase. It’s fun, too. For a step-by-step tutorial on how to get a blog started, read my “how to launch a blog” page.
- Meet other writers. You can’t succeed alone. We all need the help of others who are in the trenches with us. Set a goal to grab coffee with another writer at least once a month. If there are no other writers in your town, then hop on Skype and talk online. Don’t try to go this alone; the writing journey is a long and lonely one unless you have friends to share it with. For more on this, you can read my post on networking.
- Quit stalling and get writing! Quit reading this post or re-checking your email for the fifth time today. Turn your phone to silent and unplug from the world for an hour. Just write. It’s the simplest, hardest, scariest thing for a writer to do. Not to think about writing or talk about writing, but to actually write.
Of course, resolutions aren’t what make a year new. They’re a formality. The real trick is not setting the goal but having the resolve to do it. Once you start moving in a direction, you don’t have just a plan or a goal. You have a habit.
And that changes everything.
What are you resolving to do different this New Year? Share in the comments.