Workshop:Start the Year out Writer Right

Issue 61


Start the Year out Writer Right

By Lazette Gifford


Copyright © 2011, Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved 


Every few years I like to revisit the idea of preparing for the beginning of a year as a writer. It never hurts for anyone to look at what they have done and what they hope to do in the near future, even if they don't consciously do it for January 1. In fact, for many people, moving away from the New Year is better so that you don't get caught up in the 'resolutions' game. This is something that you can apply at any time of the year when you are ready to make a change and take better control. You don't have to make 'resolutions' in order to take advantage of the feel for starting fresh. Resolutions are promises to yourself that are too easy to break. They rarely hold up for long.


You don't need resolutions: What you need is a plan.


A plan takes more thought and effort than a simple resolution to 'write more' or 'submit more' or whatever nebulous thought you might have for your writing future. First, you have to understand what you can achieve, what is reasonable to expect and what is completely out of your hands.


1. Decide what you want out of 2011


Start simple. Do you want to finish a novel this year? Then plan for that novel, and don't decide that you are going to write three. You might be able to, but it's better to aim low and overachieve than to aim high and be disappointed.


If you want to write a novel in 2011, then you need to get a clear idea of how many words you need and how often you are going to write. This is easy to do. Let's say you're aiming at 100,000 words. You do not plan to write every single day, though. Say you'll have weekends and holidays off and that drops you down to working about 250 days out of the year. Easy -- to figure that one: 100,000 words divided by 250 days means you will have to write 400 words a day on the days that you do write.


Perhaps your plan is rather to submit stories every month. This only works if you have manuscripts on hand which are close to ready for submission. If you have to do extensive rewrites and edits, you'll need to cut down the number of submissions. It's far better to do fewer submissions and do them well then it is to send out a larger number that haven't had all the care they should.


With edits and submissions, you'll need to be more flexible in your work. It's far more difficult to edit than it is to write. Expect to take more time at it. Test yourself at 2 or 3 pages a day of serious, examine every word and line editing and see if you feel you can do more.


A combination of both writing and editing might be more of what you want, though. There is no reason why you can't devote time to doing both. After all, if you are serious about pursuing writing, then you need to give it the time it deserves.


2. Develop a plan to get you there


I've talked a little about word count and total number of days needed -- but a plan goes beyond knowing the numbers. It includes how to work with those numbers and apply them to your life. It means not writing those words for the sake of numbers, but rather achieving something in written form that will help your career.


It hardly matters what you see that career as, whether it's to be published in big-name magazines or on the bookshelves of every store, or independently published and shared among your friends.


Also remember that the goals you set must be things you can achieve on your own. You cannot set a goal to say you will be published by a big name publisher in 2011 unless you already have the contract in hand. The best you do is to say you will submit to the publisher (or agent) with your very best work. However, the decision on publication is not in your hands. It cannot be your goal. That doesn't mean it can't be your dream. Dreams are more important than goals because they allow us to reach beyond what we can do just for ourselves. Hold on to your dreams, but be reasonable in your goals.


If you work well with rewards, then be sure to take advantage of it. Use small rewards for the little, daily goals you make and save the big rewards for things like finishing a novel or making a submission. There is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself for the hard work.


3. Break bad writing habits


Why haven't you been able to achieve these goals before now? What has been in the way?


This is the time to look at what bad writing habits you've allowed yourself to get away with in past years. Have you been giving up on stories when they got too difficult? Have you gotten lazy about editing and submitting material?


Now is the time to look at what you can do to improve in areas other than the initial writing. If you are lazy about spelling, make an effort to do better. The same with grammar and punctuation, because the more you get right in the first draft, the easier the editing will be and the more likely you are to do it.


Don't be afraid to change for the better.


4. Strive to learn something new


This last one is something people rarely consider when they think about improving their writing. Learning new things is going to expand the 'write what you know' rule, which should really be 'write what you can learn.' If you aren't willing to give a few minutes every day to reading about something new -- anything from science and history to what equipment is used to break up old concrete -- then you are limiting everything you will ever write about. Don't be afraid to read about new cultures, distant places and how the trade winds work.


Expand your horizons. One of humanities greatest strengths is curiosity. It has led people to sail into unknown waters and it can take your imagination into new places, if you start by opening the door with a little more knowledge.


5. The rest of life


Don't get too carried away here, but it won't hurt to look at one or two other things that you might want to change. More exercise? Read more books? Clean house better? Try working them into a schedule with writing (exercise for ten minutes before you write, for instance) and see if that helps.


If you prepare yourself for change, you can direct it in the best possible course. Don't overburden your plans. Take it in steps and remember that you can make a little change this month, a bigger one next month, and add on until you find what works for you.


Don't be afraid of change and improvement. Embrace it and prepare for a better year.