Thursday, January 5, 2017

Six Tested Tips for Keeping Your Writing Resolutions, by Kell Andrews

Writers tend to have more New Year's resolutions than most people. We have all the usual ones exercise more, eat less sugar, cut back on coffee, reduce stress, etc. but we also have writing ones  finish that novel, send out more queries, increase word count, try a new genre.

But are writing resolutions doomed to fail, like so many abandoned January diets and exercise plans? No! (In fact, the writing goals are so often the cause of the failure of those diet and exercise plans, but that's another story.)

There is evidence about what strategies turn resolutions into habits and goals into accomplishments. In the New York Times a few years ago, Kevin G. Volpp, a staff physician at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and a professor at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where Katherine L. Milkman, professor at Wharton, published How to Keep Your Resolutions, based on their own research and a review of current behavioral health and economics research. It seemed like good advice then, and I've been adapting their strategies for writers' resolutions.

1. Make a concrete plan.

If you don't have a plan, they're not resolutions. They're wishes. Plan is to write X number of words in Y number of days and to be finished at Z date. And once you've made your concrete plan, you don't have to cast it in concrete. The best plans have flexibility built in. If you skip a day or fall behind, you are not a failure. Just begin again.

2. Put something you value on the line.

In other words, put skin in the game.  If you have a contract, you already have money on the line. If you do not, you can act like you do.  Milkman and Volpp suggest putting aside money for forfeiture if you don't achieve your goals, but you could give something else up materially. Or you could put your reputation on the line if you announce your goals widely enough that you have neighbors and Facebook friends inquiring after your progress.

3. Bundle temptation with the hard part. 

Number 2 is the stick. Number 3 is the carrot. Milkman and Volpp say that if you want to exercise more, try to bundle that with an addictive activity like listening to audiobooks: "Our research demonstrates that when you leave your copy of “The Hunger Games” (or such) at the gym, you exercise 56 percent more often," they wrote. Big points for using a YA novel as the example (but points off for calling it "trashy). 

Naturally, if you want to write the next Hunger Games, you can't listen to it or you might literally rewrite The Hunger Games. Try bundling something else  your favorite kind of tea you can only drink while revising, a glass of wine you can only pour after you've gotten your nightly words in, a favorite binge watch or read.

4. Seek social support. 

Even introverted writers need social support (If you're here, thank you for being part of mine) Whether a critique group or an online community, writers need and give accountability and support. That's what writing challenges like National Novel Writing Month and Storystorm and online groups like Mastermind and SubItClub are about accountability, consistency, the transformation of resolutions into habits.

Since you are part of my social support, I'll confess that I'm still struggling to finish the novel I started more than a year ago, but I've published a picture book during that time and drafted and polished up six other manuscripts. What are my resolutions for the new year? Finish and revise the novel, draft six more picture books. Then publish them.

But that last one isn't a resolution it's an ambition. So here is bonus tip number five from me:

5. Make sure your resolution is in your control. 

A resolution isn't something you want to achieve it's something you want to do. Much of publishing is out of our hands. No matter how good your writing is, an agent or a book contract or a bestseller list may not happen within a specific time frame. You can work towards it, but you can't control it.

The writing is in your control. Giving and seeking writing companionship is. Putting your heart and ego on the line by querying, submitting, and seeking out readers is.

But what if you miss your goals? Break your writing resolutions? That's OK too. There's always another challenge around the corner, and you can make a fresh start at any time. Don't believe me? Professor Milkman says that too. So let's make that tip number 6.

6. Any time you need a fresh start is the right time to make a fresh start.  

The only timeframe your resolutions need are the ones you set for them.


  1. This is a great post, Kell! It's so true that my "writing" resolutions are why I give up on my "health" resolutions! That line made me laugh. :-)

  2. These are some great tips. Indeed resolutions need to be planned out and within our control.

  3. Kell- These resolutions go a long way! Thanks for sharing!!!

  4. Great list, Kell, and one to re-visit! Also one that can be reframed if not working. I think for me, the biggest challenge is making a list that is manageable. Too big and I fail. I get excited with sooo many project ideas and get spread too thin and need to focus on one or two. So I wrote out my project list and picked the top priority ones to focus on. Will see how it goes this year!

    And YES, love this - writing is in our control, so much else isnt! Truth! And if you do fail, have that community behind you to boost you up. So important. :) Good luck everyone with your New Year's writing goals!

  5. So true. I think I'm going to read this post many times this year.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!