No, we didn’t hit a time warp. And no, you aren’t just waking up from a rum-induced fog caused by fruitcake vapors. It really is FRIDAY! If you’re like me, and spent most of yesterday thinking it was Monday, this probably comes as a bit of a shock. Rest assured, being a journalist, I have verified this development through rigorous research and the help of my local Starbuck’s, where I was told it is Frappe’ Friday. That means in addition to saving .50 cents on a $9 coffee drink whose name sounds like a kitten getting sick, it’s also time for Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing — or my NWOW for short. Not that my NWOW has ever been called short.
At least in terms of word count.
For those who might be visiting for the first time, I should explain this is the day I draw upon my 15 years as a columnist to offer tips that Writer’s Digest recently called “… a shining example of why some writers go on to have successful careers as plumbers…” and what Tom Clancy has described as “The antithesis of precise literary implosion.”
I don’t know what that means exactly, but hey: Tom CLANCY said it! And that’s good enough for me.
But enough with the accolades!
No doubt, many of you have begun formulating your New Year’s resolutions:
“I’m going to lose weight.”
“I’m going to drink less.”
“I’m going to change careers.”
“Ned is going to stop referring to himself in the third person.”
Ok, maybe that last one was just me. Regardless, I think we can all agree resolutions are a great way to jump-start goals for personal improvement and life changes. At least until the end of February, at which point we often “re-evaluate” our goals and make “more realistic” adjustments to those goals by “dropping them completely.” For this reason, as writers, we need to be careful about the resolutions we make regarding literary goals, and in some cases we shouldn’t make them at all.
Many of you are probably saying, “Sure Ned, that’s easy for you to say!”
Oops, sorry — That was me speaking in third-person again. Still, I think it raises a good point: I’m fortunate enough to write full-time for a newspaper, so who am I to tell you not to set lofty goals for yourself when I’m living the dream my editor coincidentally calls her nightmare?
All I can say is that I’m the guy without a college education who spent 10 years cooking in kitchens before being
mistakenly hired enthusiastically added to the editorial staff here at Siuslaw News 15 years ago. I can tell you from experience that reaching this level of success, which includes not two but three readers from Florida who are willing to admit they follow this blog, only came after making several important realizations — and failures — regarding New Year’s resolutions and goal setting for my writing.
Here are my Top Three writing resolution mistakes:
1) Waiting for Jan. 1
What I came to realize after several attempts to “start and complete that novel” was that the mere fact I was waiting for a start date doomed me to failure. I can honestly say the best things that have happened to me in my life — including meeting my wife on Match.com, getting this job, actually starting and finishing a mystery novel years ago — didn’t come by way of setting goals; they came from acting on them instinctively and following through, regardless of the date. The decision to start pursuing your goals as a writer — whether it’s to start a blog or publish a blockbuster — shouldn’t hinge on the New Year.
The only exception might be writing for a calendar company.
So am I saying NOT to start pursuing your writing goals next Wednesday? Not at all. But you should probably ask yourself, “Ned, why are you waiting?”
Sorry, I’m still working on that “third person” thing…
2) Setting resolution goals that include things beyond your control:
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to write a blockbuster, land a book deal or increase blog followers by 1,000 or more. But don’t make them goals. Ultimately, just like the women The Bachelor will decide not to send home this season no matter how much you yell at the TV, you have no control over those kinds of things. As a writer, all you can do is focus on what you’re putting on the page and have faith in what happens next. The same goes for watching The Bachelor, which is why most of them eventually end up on The Bachelor Pad. In short, set goals that are within your realm of control — the most important of which is the quality of what you write. Like a successful restaurant, people don’t come because of the plate ware — they come for the food. Unless you work at Hooters. Which brings us back to The Bachelor…
3) Lumping too many resolutions together
“I’m going to lose 30 pounds, write a novel and give up bacon!” Let’s face it, if those are your resolutions you’re doomed once again. Why? While it’s true that resolutions are supposed to be difficult and life changing, even if you could drop 30 pounds and write that novel all in the same year, what’s the point if you can’t eat bacon? Whatever your resolution is, in order for it to be successful it needs your full attention. Remember that a root word of resolution is “resolute,” which means “determined and of singular focus,” and “lute” which is “a guitar-like instrument with a pear-shaped body.”
What does this mean? Clearly, writers who set resolutions for themselves should be “singularly focused” and should not simultaneously diet, even if they have a pear-shaped body.
In short, keep your resolution exactly that: singular. That way you can give it your complete focus and not be distracted by the success or failure of other goals you promised yourself.
My intention isn’t to dissuade anyone from pursuing resolutions into the New Year, or setting lofty goals for themselves. Though I had my share a failures with resolutions over the years when it came to my writing, I don’t regret them.
Except for that time I tried to learn how to play the lute…
(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released this December from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)