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Five (±New Year's) Resolutions for Writers

Up front, I'll tell you that I'm not a huge fan of New Year's resolutions (hence the plus or minus symbol), but I am a huge fan of having a deadline. Deadlines help keep us writers accountable to fulfilling our commitments and achieving our goals. I am also a believer that goal-setting and changes in perspective or choice can and should happen at any time. So, whether you read this in January or July, I offer you the following resolutions for writers, which are a combination of things I strive for personally and also encourage others to do.

 

1) Be Kinder to Yourself.

At The Writers Studio Tucson, we have a saying - don't listen to the shit bird. The shit bird is that invisible, little creature that sits on your shoulder while you write and casts doubt on everything you do. You'll never finish this story. That paragraph is awful. Who on earth is going to read this? You have nothing new to say. No one will ever publish this. Are you making this worse? I'm pretty sure you're making this worse.

We all know that rejection is a fairly large component of being a writer. There are plenty of people out there who are going to tell you that your work isn't good enough. Refuse to add your own voice to the mix. Give yourself permission to work at your own pace, make mistakes and not churn out flawless first drafts.

 

2) Keep Learning.

Unless you've won a Pulitzer (and even if you have), there are still probably things at which you can improve. Perhaps you're really skilled at writing lyrical short stories, but have always avoided dialogue because it's one of your weaknesses. Avoid dialogue no more! Practice not only the things you're good at, but also the things you're not. Look for classes, lectures, weekend workshops, retreats, etc., where you can keep learning. This summer, I took a weekend workshop at the University of Arizona Poetry Center called "The Fact of Fiction: Turning Life into Story" (taught by Ted McLoof), which focused on the structure of the short story. Mind blown. Seriously. What I learned in just two, four-hour sessions helped reinvigorate my work and gave me a whole new set of exciting "writerly" tools to use.

 

3) Switch Things Up.

Everyone has their own unique, creative process. Maybe you always write in the morning. Maybe you always handwrite your first draft. Maybe, like a friend of mine, you alternately consume equal sips of red wine and coffee while working. Whatever it is that you've found works, great! However, don't be afraid to switch up your routine either.

I recently read an article from Glimmer Train titled "The Writing Practice: Methodology and Camaraderie." In it, writer Melanie Bishop shares the "Sussman method" (named for novelist Ellen Sussman) in which you aim for 45 minutes of productive writing, followed by 15 minutes of doing something else while your mind continues to work. Prior to trying the Sussman method, my process pretty much involved sitting in front of my computer for hours until my brain turned to mush. I thought that was the only way to make significant progress on a piece. That is... until I tried the Sussman method. I found it incredibly approachable and effective. Suffice it to say, the Sussman method has now also become the Drumwright method.

 

4) Aim High.

Part of sending out your work is assessing the piece you've written and the types of publications that might realistically publish it. This may mean you're not routinely sending your work to Ploughshares, Tin House or our favorite, Carve, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't ever, either. When you've got a piece you're really proud of, aim high. Go ahead and send it to American Short Fiction or Carve. You never know what could happen. The first piece I ever submitted to Carve was ultimately rejected, but included so many wonderful comments from the reading committee that I almost couldn't tell it was a rejection. I applied the feedback they gave me, and when I sent it out again to another round of journals, it was accepted for publication.

 

5) Involve Your Non-Writer Friends.

In the words of fellow Carve blogger Marléne Zadig, writers need community. However, that community doesn't have to be other writers only. You can get your non-writer friends involved too. Have friends who are avid readers? Invite them to a reading/writing date with you at a local coffee shop, restaurant patio or quiet bar you like. Together, you can share a table, some snacks, a drink or two and a couple quiet hours of productivity while they read and you write. We all know writing can be a lonely pursuit. Involving your non-writer friends is a great way to get yourself out of the house and enjoy the presence of someone who supports you, all while making progress on your work.

 

So, now that I've shared my writerly resolutions with you, I want to know, what are yours? Share in the comments below.