There’s nothing magical about the New Year.
Nothing supernatural happens when the clocks click midnight on January 1st.
But New Year’s can (and does) still hold the potential to be incredibly powerful. This is something that every writer knows: narrative, and our sense of a shift in narrative, can be hugely impactful.
That’s why we set New Year’s resolutions—and why many of us feel a renewed energy at the beginning of the year.
But with almost a month of 2020 behind us, the strength of conviction we felt when we set our resolutions may be starting to dwindle. In fact, 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions will abandon them by the second week of February!
Let’s not be part of that statistic this year. Here are three simple strategies to help you stick to your New Year’s writing resolutions—not just for a month or two, but all year long:
1. Start Small and Build Up
It’s tempting to set huge goals for the New Year. Things like “write a novel,” “write 2,000 words every day,” “get published.”
But once you sit down at your desk, are those goals actually motivating you?
For some writers, the loftiest goals are the most motivating—having a finish line way in the distance makes them want to sprint even faster.
But for many writers, those same big goals can be more intimidating than motivating. Feeling overwhelmed by a large goal can trigger inaction—we’re overwhelmed, so we don’t do anything, or we do very little.
If you struggle when you feel a big goal looming over your heard, try starting small instead.
Maybe on day one, you just have to open your novel document. Then on day two, you just have to write for five minutes. Then ten minutes on day three.
Or perhaps you start by writing just 50 words on day one. Then 100 on day two. Then 200 on day three.
Before you know it, you’re accomplishing your goals. This works because you’re not putting pressure on yourself to be perfect or to accomplish everything in one go, but instead, you’re giving yourself a chance to grow with your goal.
2. Anticipate and Learn from Setbacks
If you’ve faltered on your goals, that’s okay.
No one is perfect—no one. Even the most prolific writers struggle sometimes. Remember also that when you see a published book on the shelf, what you don’t see are all of the challenges the writer went through to get there. You can’t compare your rough draft of chapter 1 to someone else’s complete edited manuscript.
Beating yourself up about not meeting a goal, or not “being on track,” isn’t going to help you accomplish anything.
Here are two steps that will help:
One: Accept that setbacks are part of the process. No one writes a novel and says, “wow, that was easy!” Try writing down all of the obstacles that you anticipate popping up, and then write how you’re going to overcome them.
Two: When you do encounter a setback, learn from it. Take note of the obstacle that got in your way (add it to your list!), decide how you’ll move past it this time, and write down how you can avoid it in the future.
3. Celebrate your Wins
Research tells us that the habits that gain the most traction are the ones that give us immediate rewards—and the most effective rewards are those that are intrinsic, or come from within.
This is why people who notice how strong they feel after a workout, for example, are more likely to keep working out than those who reward themselves with a favorite food or a trip to the mall.
What does this mean for us as writers?
It means that when we celebrate our writing wins, no matter how small, we are reinforcing the habit of our writing practice.
Wrote 200 words? Notice how good that feels. Finished a chapter? Celebrate the pride that brings you. Tell your friends and writing partners, post a picture of your page count on Instagram, give yourself a high five.
Naming that internal reward (pride, excitement, inspiration) helps the brain associate the feeling and the habit, reinforcing it even more. Celebrating your wins, publicly or privately, trains the brain to look for more opportunities to engage with this habit (writing!) again and again.
The Bottom Line
As writers, we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves: the pressure to produce a lot of work, the pressure to make that work perfect, the pressure to feel like a “real writer” in the process.
I’ve got news for you: if you write, you’re a real writer.
Ultimately, the goals we set are for us and us alone. By taking some of the pressure off—whether that’s by starting small, acknowledging and anticipating setbacks, or giving ourselves permission to celebrate even the smallest wins—we can open ourselves up for more success.
TL;DR – Take the pressure off, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish!
Okay, you’ve identified potential setbacks—but how do you overcome them? Grab your free copy of 10 Strategies for Defeating Writer’s Block so you’ll always have a cheat sheet of tools handy whenever you need it.