It’s not only First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing and publishing, it’s also the start of a New Year when many are making resolutions for how you want to be in 2014. Common ones are to be thinner, fitter, more successful and preferably richer than in the year gone by. As writers we may also resolve to get more writing done and set the bar higher in terms of what we expect of ourselves and our work.
All these are worthwhile goals. And as the saying goes, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you will still land among the stars. But while you’re shooting for the moon, consider 5 things you should NOT take into 2014.
1. Unhelpful habits
Many writers “fuel” ourselves in ways that aren’t good for us. Chocolate, anyone? This year, resolve to change some of those habits for better ones that support you and your work. Before writing this, I headed for the kitchen for coffee and a home-made cookie. In my head I heard, unhelpful habit, and stopped to ask myself what besides a cookie would meet my needs, picking up a small bowl of grapes instead. I can also look at alternatives as creative fuel. Some writers use music, scented candles, a workspace set up a certain way, or playing a game or two to get themselves into the right frame of mind. As we move into 2014, what unhelpful habits can you switch for more helpful ones?
Depending on how long it goes on, procrastination can show itself as anything from a sudden need to clean out the refrigerator (in the domestic sense, rather than point 1 above), to full-on writer’s block when you can’t produce words at all. Start by asking yourself whether you’re distracted or blocked. When I find myself dodging a project, it’s almost always because it’s not ready to start yet. I either need more information – say about characters or story elements, or I’m trying to force the story to go in the wrong direction. Taking stock, doing some brainstorming with a supportive friend, or on paper; or filling in the research gaps often gets me going again. If you’re blocked because of fear – of not being good enough, or of looking foolish, for example – it helps to reread something you’ve already written to remind yourself of what you can achieve. If you’re a new writer, you might join a group or sign up for a workshop as a way to get over your fears in a helpful environment.
3. Tired ideas
If you’ve been struggling to write and don’t feel you’re making progress, use the new year to put away tired material. If you’re sick of it, readers are unlikely to be inspired, either. Try something new – a new style, format, genre – invent a new series character or world, and see where they lead. Freshen your approach and you’ll very likely recapture the excitement of writing as you go into 2014.
4. Negative self image
The nature of writing can lead us to question ourselves and even our sanity. Are we crazy spending time listening to voices in our heads, writing about imaginary people, and mentally living in made-up settings? But it’s not crazy, it’s what writers do. Then we share our stories with readers as our gift to the world. (See my previous blog on using your unique gifts.) We also ask ourselves why we think we’re good enough to follow in the steps of the great writers before us. I have no doubt they asked themselves the same thing. A healthy dose of uncertainty can be a spur to success, as long as it doesn’t overwhelm you.
This may seem to contradict point 4, but it doesn’t. As I mentioned, having a healthy dose of uncertainty is good, whatever we want to achieve. It keeps us striving to do better, to prove that one story or one book wasn’t a fluke. Writing anything can seem like a miracle – and it is! But we must be able to step back from the work and see its flaws as well as its magic. Both are usually in the writing you’ve just completed. Setting it aside for a while and starting something new can restore your objectivity. In writing as well as in life, we need a balance between under and over-confidence, to achieve our best.
As a writer, what don’t you want to take into 2014? Share your experiences in the comment box below. I regret they must be moderated to avoid rudeness and spam. To have your comment appear right away, click on “sign me up” at lower right. I don’t share your email details with anyone.
Happy New Year and may your words flow freely,