12 New-Year Tips for Writers

by Marg McAlister


1. Paint the Year in Broad Strokes.


Some people hate setting goals (it seems so corporate!). For some, it's actually even counter-productive - if they set goals and don't achieve them, they feel a depressing sense of failure. So instead, sit back and put your feet up and let your mind wander. Just think about the bigger picture. What do you want for yourself in the coming year? What would make you content?

Think about all the possibilities: the best-case scenario, the 'okay' situation, and even face the very worst that could happen. What you are after is a sense of how you want your year to develop. If you have to work full-time, then your dreams and aspirations will have to fit in with that. You might have the option of cutting back your hours to work on your writing, or even of taking a year off. How can you move closer to what you really want?

2. Choose "The Big Step Forward"

Once you have a good sense of what the year ahead will be like, start thinking about one really constructive thing you can do to boost your writing career. (If you don't want to think in terms of 'career', that's fine. Instead, think about the one thing you can do to get what you want.) Do you want to go to a seminar? Join (or start up) a writers' group? Get your first story or article published? Pick just one thing and make that your focus for the year. If you achieve it in the first month, you can have fun picking the next big step!

3. Set Priorities To make things happen, you have to set priorities. This doesn't mean setting an exhaustive list of goals or coming up with a 10-page plan. However, you should come up with a workable set of steps to get you where you want to be. Whatever is going to take you closer to your 'Big Step Forward' should be high on the list of priorities. For example: save enough money for the fare, accommodation and costs of a writers' conference... or decide on your target market for an article, then research and query those magazines.

Don't ignore your family, friends or other responsibilities. They won't go away - so give them a place in your list of priorities. Remember, they can always be moved up or down the list, depending on circumstances.

4. Go for Balance

This flows logically from 'not ignoring family and friends'. It's crucial to make sure you have enough balance in your life. Too many writers crash and burn because they work long hours at what they 'have to' do (either inside or outside the home) then try to devote every other waking hour to their writing career. They have no social life, no outside contacts, and very little 'down time'.

This is BAD for you. You're likely to become tired, grouchy and resentful because you don't have a life. You may also end up overweight and unhealthy because you ignore the need for good nutrition and adequate sleep. Finally, you could end up friendless and living alone because (a) you're boring (not everyone thinks writing a novel is fascinating) or (b) you're neglectful of the needs of others.

Build in time for exercise (make sure it's enjoyable) and maintaining relationships with others. Do at least one thing each month that is a total indulgence, whether it's as simple as an outing to the movies or a wildly extravagant purchase.

5. Choose Your Support Team

Writers are notorious for having bouts of depression or feeling completely talentless. This is usually because your characters won't cooperate or the plot is falling apart before your eyes. You need at least one friend who is there for you at stressful times. Another writer will understand what you're going through, but an empathetic Significant Other can get you back on track just as well.

It's best to have several people you can call on when you need support, but make sure it's reciprocal. You might like to have a mix of online friends and those who are nearby and available for coffee and a chat.

6. Choose Your Network

Who can help you achieve your goals? Your network can include family and friends, but think in terms of a professional network as well. Get to know other writers, and seek out online communities or groups that will share information and encouragement. Be careful, though, that you don't let an online community steal time from your writing. It's good to socialise, but not if it takes up too much of your time and energy.

Beware the lure of 'social' discussions and emails. Your professional network can include writers, editors, agents, and publishers. Okay: you're not likely to have too many editors, agents and publishers in it - except for the occasional query - but try to add these people if you can. A conference is the best time to meet an editor or agent. Build the relationship slowly, and don't make too many demands. Over time, your network will grow. Start off small, and seek out those who are a "good fit" with your overall plans.

7. Manage Your Time

Hoo boy, time management! It's never easy. Start with the things you can't move or cut out (such as your day job - the one that pays the mortgage) then go back to your list of priorities.

Here's a tip: Pick "two golden hours" in each day, and use them for the work that's most important. I'm not sure where I first read about this idea, but I've found it to be very useful. From the hours available to you for writing, choose a 2-hour time slot that suits your bio-rhythms and lifestyle. If possible, make it a time when you'll be reasonably free of interruptions and not too tired. Tell yourself that if you do nothing else, you will make these 'two golden hours' really count.

If you find that two hours is too much to fit in, make it ONE golden hour. In a week, that's still seven highly productive hours. You work on anything you like in these 'golden hours'. The aim is to be satisfied with the result - whether you spend it networking, writing a query letter, researching your market or writing fiction.

8. Set Review Dates

Review your progress regularly. The first day of each new month is a good time for this. Check to see that you're moving steadily towards your Big Step Forward. If you need to change anything, do so. Some months you'll have better results than others: this happens in any business. The main aim of your review is to make sure that you're not spinning your wheels. If you monitor your progress, you'll see any problems more clearly - and you are far more likely to get what you want.

9. Reward Yourself

Reward yourself not only for achievements, but for effort. If you've worked hard for a month, give yourself a treat, even if you haven't yet reached one of your milestones. If you work outside the home, you know what a difference it makes when people notice and reward your efforts. You'll feel better about all the time you put in if you build in a few rewards along the way. Make this part of your review: not only what you have accomplished, but what you can do to reward yourself.

10. Building Skills: Use the Kaizen Principle

The Japanese have a concept known as Kaizen, which means "gradual continual improvements over time". While none of us is perfect, we can all continue to hone our skills. Just work on improving your writing a little bit more each time you sit down at the computer.

Buy a new book on writing; enrol in a short course; make notes from articles on writing... it will all add up. You'll find a previous tipsheet article on the Kaizen Principle on the Writing4SuccessClub membership site. Just use the search box to look for for "Kaizen Principle" and you'll find it easily.

11. Think Money

Unless you are completely self-sufficient, you probably need money to buy food and pay the rent. That means either (a) having someone else to support you or (b) finding a job.

If you're earning money through writing, then you're well on the way - so here, we'll address those who are frustrated by having to 'go out to work' when they just want to write. Turn this around. Writing is, I assume, pleasurable for you (otherwise you might as well forget about it and just work at something else).

That being so, having an outside job can actually give you FREEDOM to write. You do whatever is necessary to feed, clothe and house yourself - and the rest of the time, you can have fun with your hobby: writing. Plenty of writers have taken a year off (or given up their jobs) to write, only to find that they haven't actually got much writing done at all. Worse, they're now cash-strapped as well! Sometimes 'being free to write' isn't as wonderful as it first seems. A good solution for you might be to see if you can work three or four days a week instead of five. That gives you an income as well as more time to write.

12. Think Enjoyment

Last but not least - don't get so focused on 'having to get the book written' that it becomes a chore. We all know that writing is a lot of hard work - but if it becomes drudgery, then it's not just hard work: it's a nightmare. Don't forget that you wanted to be a writer because you love to write. (If you don't love it, start looking for a new career.)

No matter how much you dislike some of the more routine chores that go with being a writer (editing, polishing, writing query letters, etc) the actual act of writing should leave you feeling satisfied, or even euphoric. Not always, of course - but most of the time. If you need to take time out from writing to recharge, then do so - but never lose sight of the fact that it should be fun.


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