Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Happy New Year, beloved reader! Whether you’re hoping 2017 will be an antidote to an awful 2016, or last year was great for you and you’re ready for more, you’ve probably considered making some resolutions that’ll apply over the next twelve months.
Well, I can’t drive you to the gym, or make this the year that you finally skydive, but I do have some suggestions for progressing as a writer. I’ll start with some general advice about making and keeping your resolutions, and then move onto the kind of thing that an author can do in 2017 to further their career and their art. Along the way, I’ll pepper in some useful links so you can follow up the advice that most applies to the journey ahead of you. Think you’ve thought of everything? Well, you’re wrong, so get reading!
Making good resolutions
Everyone knows the tips for good resolutions, so I won’t bore you with a lengthy rehashing. Basically:
- Set specific targets – Doing ‘more’ with your writing is nebulous, and won’t pay you back; how many competitions will you be applying to, and how many agents, minimum, will you contact? How many words or pages will you be writing a week? Think in numbers!
- Employ deadlines – Yeah, I hate ’em too, but they tend to work. Publishing your work ‘this year’ means nothing, and your future self has adequate room to squirm out of arrangements. Instead, decide to send your first query letter by July 9th. Why the 9th? Because you need a date, and that one’ll do.
- Be realistic – Whatever you think is reasonable now, assume you’ll be a little more pessimistic in the future. New Year’s resolutions are famously hard to keep, and that’s because real life often hits you like a splash of cold water. If anything, start small, with specific plans to increase your beneficial behavior by a pre-arranged deadline. January is going to be a busy month, so it’s the time when you should expect the least from yourself.
- Set hard rules – Because you’re being realistic, you can afford to be strict as well. If you know you can do something, hold yourself to that behavior for as long as possible. Put in measures to stop yourself from slipping, even if that means throwing something out or not getting a treat if you fail. You’re always managing future you, and if you don’t set a good example, they’re more likely to rebel.
All things you already knew, but here’s your unique Standout Books addition: Use that knowledge!
Everyone knows the stuff above, but they still don’t apply it. If you really want something, then put in that extra effort. Promising yourself the moon might feel great, but it won’t get you any further towards your goal.
Think hard about setting realistic goals, and don’t be afraid to downsize your expectations if you know they probably won’t pan out.Being realistic about your goals is the first step to meeting them. Click To Tweet
When I wrote about The 3 Golden Rules Of Writing A Self-help Book, I said that efficacy was the deciding factor in changing your behavior. In fact, if you look below, you can see for yourself.
Efficacy is the belief that your goals are reachable – both that the result you want is possible, and that you as an individual can achieve it. This is the quality that great self-help or philosophical texts must possess. Yes, they should include the practical steps a person needs to help themselves, but they also need to make those steps feel manageable and make the reader feel energized and capable.
In deciding on a resolution, you’re trying a little self-help of your own. The success of your plan lives and dies on whether you really feel like it’s possible. In fact, it’ll probably be better for you to set out on a path of moderate improvement that you can handle than to try a path of incredible improvement that you’re not really sure you can manage. The person who succeeds on that first path can try the more advanced version next year, but the person who fails at the second is probably going to be too demoralized.
Maybe there’s just one thing you can do differently, but by focusing your attention and will, you know it’s possible. Great! Tackle that, this year, and add something else in 2018. In five years, that’s five substantial changes, compared to someone who tried to do it all and failed five times, if they kept trying at all.
With that in mind, don’t feel too much pressure when you survey the list below. It’s not a giant stone tablet ordering you to change – it’s a tapas menu, and whether you want patatas bravas, Manchego cheese, croquetas, or all three (you maniac), is all down to you.
Resolutions for your current project
Whatever you’re working on now, this is probably going to be your first port of call when you think about potential resolutions. Finishing is a great goal, so long as you know what that involves and set a firm deadline, but so is setting a word count, or other set of goals, over the coming months.
What’s next, though? When are you going to learn how to write a great query letter? Do you have a list of editors, agents, or publishers ready to approach? It all needs doing, and this is a great time to decide when you’re going to do it.
An action plan can help you stay organized – break down the things you need to do into physical spaces, whether that’s using an Excel spreadsheet, putting sticky notes on your wall, or just segmenting a piece of paper. Now, start applying some dates. As each segment is met and dealt with, you’ll have more and more evidence that you can deal with the next one. And guess what? You can!
Resolutions for online
Look, you need a website. You also need a social media presence, and it’d be a good idea to start work on an email list. You might not be ready to use them, but by the time you are, you want there to be something there to work with.
Ignore these jobs now, and there are two possibilities later. First, you’ll have to spend time setting up an online presence, right when you’re otherwise ready to go. Second, you’ll ignore your online presence because you can’t wait, and you’ll lose perhaps the most powerful marketing tool in your arsenal, right out of the gate.Set up your online marketing now and it’ll be ready when you need it.Click To Tweet
I’m not saying you have to slave over the perfect website, but you should make a start. Heck, you can even just have someone do it for you, but make sure it’s on your radar. You won’t be sorry.
You could also search out some good sources of advice (try subscribing to our newsletter, for instance), or make this the year you finally find the right writing software for you. There are so many free trials available, the only reason not to is if it’s going to distract you from another goal.
Groups are a huge boon for an author, and not enough writers really give them a chance. Meeting in real life is great, but you can also search online for a writers’ circle, critique group, or writing site that works for you. Dependable, informed feedback is quite the gift to give yourself this year.
Resolutions for the big wide world
So, listen, ‘networking’. I hate it too, we all do, but you wouldn’t believe how much easier it makes it to succeed. I don’t even mean in the nepotistic, you-scratch-my-back way, but just in terms of getting your name out there.
The editor who can’t place your book at her company might run into a colleague in a few months’ time who’s looking for exactly what you’re offering. She can only recommend you if she knows you. This isn’t a fantasy – I could introduce you to writers for who this was the case, if they hadn’t told me to stop bringing people around to verify their existence.
In any big city, there’s a comedian or a band who can always find a gig, just because they know all the right people, and all the right people know their name. (By the way, if this is literally what you want – to read at spoken word nights or get a place at a literary festival – then become the person they can rely on in a pinch. No-one has a surer place at the top of the list than the person who showed up when there weren’t enough names on it.)
In the same way, you can start building a solid career by visiting literary festivals and entering competitions. You won’t meet your dream agent, and you probably won’t win first time, but when you go for something down the line, you’ll be the name everyone important already knows.Building a good reputation is slow work, but it’s totally in your hands. Click To Tweet
Again, set manageable goals, but you know you can get to one literary event this year, and you can definitely write something for a competition. One is better than none. More than 100% better, if you can believe it.
Resolutions for happy writing
Being happy in your work is a fine goal, and might be what you need more than anything in 2017. Whether you’re struggling to find time to write, need more support from your spouse, or just aren’t finding happiness in your goals, we have specific advice to help.
Of course, the real solution is to take a good, hard look at your situation and decide what can be changed to improve it. Again, even a small change is worth making.
The year ahead
2017 might just be your year, or it might be another year that passes with no noticeable gains in your writing. It really is down to you, but the good news is that there’s always something you can improve in real terms.
And remember my advice in There Are Wolves In You! Now, How Can They Help You Write? – good writing behavior empowers further good writing behavior, so it may even be worth making a small resolution just to claim some ground for your better impulses.A small resolution you keep is infinitely better than a huge one you forget. Click To Tweet
One final piece of advice for honoring your New Year’s resolutions is to share them – make them concrete by saying them out loud, and maybe even investing a little of your reputation in their successful completion. You can start by sharing your specific, realistic resolution (and its attendant deadline) below, as well as any topics you’d like to see us cover over 2017.
If you want more advice on succeeding in your resolution, check out 8 Steps That Will Help You Start (And Finish) Your Book, How Loving To Write May Stop You Getting Published, and Here’s How A Tortoise Can Help You Finally Finish Your Novel.