Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How resolute are you?

Okay - how are those New Year’s writing resolutions going? How many did you make and how many have you already broken?


I’m sure you’re thinking that I’m not being very positive but the truth is that most of us who wait until the New Year to resolve to do something or change some behavior are almost guaranteed to fail. A high percentage of us will break the majority of our resolutions within the first few weeks if not the first few days. While a new year seems a perfect time to start fresh and do those things we’ve been promising ourselves we’d do or stop doing those things that have caused us so much grief for most of our lives, it’s also unrealistic to think that change takes place just because we’ve begun a new year.

In order for change to occur we have to make sure that it’s:

- easy to implement and feels natural
- won’t disrupt the overall routine of our lives - unless that’s the change we want
- acceptable to the other people in our immediate lives because we need their support and understanding.

So, how does all this relate to writing?

Most writers have a resolution to write more. But what does this really mean. If they write more, how much more will they actually write? Moreover, what is the quality of what they are writing? What about editing? What’s the end result and how is it being measured? These are all questions that need to be asked and answered in order to set up goals that can be realistically accomplished.

Often goals as vague as "write more" do not advance the writer towards the true objective of either finishing a first draft of a work-in-progress (WIP) or rewriting a completed first draft to make it acceptable for submission to either an agent or an editor.

Instead consider goals like:

- write fight scene between main character and main opponent in Chapter 3
- write scene and dialogue where main character learns her lover has betrayed her

Goals like these help organize and structure the writer’s time and provide a better end result. These types of goals are more definable and therefore more manageable. And when you can manage your goals they don’t manage you, which is less frustrating and leads to more success. And success, my friends, breeds success. Failure breeds failure so when you set non-definable, non-manageable goals, you set yourself up for failure which is exactly the opposite of what you need and I suspect want to do.

So, here are my goals:

On a large scale I definitely have the goal to write more, but write more in an efficient manner, and for me this is what this means:

I can’t set aside a specific time each day because my schedule is so non-routine and "unsettable," except for my train ride to and from work in downtown Chicago. In fact, I am drafting this blog on the train. So, I know that I will have at least 20 - sometimes 30 - minutes each way, depending on the train I take, especially on the way home. In that 20 minutes my goals are to write. My routine is that I find a seat where I can easily pop open my laptop, boot it up and start writing. I put my headphones on to block out the other commuters and also play music that gets me ‘pumped up’ to write. Then I write. A sentence, an idea, a paragraph. It all adds up.

I sometimes review my work as well, but mostly I write because that is my overall goal. But my specific goal on the train is to write a sentence, a paragraph, etc and the next thing I know I’ve written two sentences, three, four and even several paragraphs. Sometimes my goal is as simple as to write the dialogue between two characters in a particular scene. I know this is what I want to do so throughout the day I’m playing the scene in my mind and when I sit down to write it tends to flow. It’s almost as if I’m dictating the script from the scene in my head that my characters are playing out.

I have to stop and give credit to my husband and his incredibly successful nonfiction work - Novelist’s Boot Camp. Take a look at Drills 2 and 4 and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

The bottom line for me is that it’s easy to get lost in my writing when I am able to accomplish my daily goals and I feel more successful. When Todd was writing Novelist’s Boot Camp he looked at many of the issues I was struggling with to formulate drills. Since I’m a struggling fiction writer, it worked out well in terms of timing. As I’m developing my voice and style as a fiction writer, he’s writing a book to inspire and motive and organize beginning fiction writers. Although I can honestly attest that Novelist’s Boot Camp has something to over published authors as well.

Back to the point of my blog - go ahead and make those resolutions. Just set yourself up for success and make sure your resolutions are ones you can keep and not just for a day or a week, or even a year. Make sure they are ones that you can reasonably use for the rest of your writing career and set yourself up for writing and publishing success.

The best of luck to all of you - I love seeing writers getting at least a piece of their dream.

Hope to see lots of inspired writers at the Love Is Murder conference/convention the first weekend in February of each year. Go to for more information.