Exciting tips on how to fail at your New Year’s writing resolutions

imageNo doubt, many of you have embarked on your New Year’s resolutions:

“I’m going to lose weight!”
“I’m going to drink less!”
“I’m going to change careers!”
“I’m going to stop referring to myself 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 16 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 dates to begin 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 you shouldn’t have started pursuing your writing goals on New Year’s Day? Not at all. But you should probably ask yourself, “Ned, what were you waiting for?”

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…


image Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. This post is an excerpt from his upcoming book, Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing: Pearls of Writing Wisdom from 16 Shucking Years as a Columnist, set for release in February. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

55 thoughts on “Exciting tips on how to fail at your New Year’s writing resolutions”

  1. Well, this girl wants to know how to land that coveted calendar-writing gig. (and really, there’s no point to anything in life without bacon…) All solid advice as usual, Ned. Happy New Year to you!

  2. Happy New Year to you too, Darla! And if you could come up with a provocative bacon-themed calendar (bacon in a skimpy bikini, bacon playing beach volleyball, etc.) I think you’d be on to something. Or maybe just on something…

  3. This post is a wonderful reminder and very timely as a work on a draft for my Monday post. I’m THAT person who has high ambitions and feel a little bit blue when I don’t meet my own lofty expectations. It’s exactly why I’m approaching my writing (and everything else) differently this year. I’m still making plans in my head…we’ll see what happens 🙂

    1. Thanks, Michelle. Self realization is always the first step to positive change — and I can see that first footstep in the dirt. Don’t worry, you totally missed the manure pile 😉

  4. let me preface this with an ‘i’m sorry’…i waited a full 30 minutes for someone (anyone) else to mention the “lute” comment… and as no one else has remarked upon it, and i can not risk bursting from holding it in any longer; i MUST make the comment that it seemed like a reasonable instrument choice considering your assumed mastery of the skin flute by this age….
    pardon my snicker giggle…far too much time spent with teenage boys over the Christmas holidays…

  5. I find it so much easier if my children are not at home or at least deep in sleep early in the morning for me to do any writing. As for resolutions, I haven’t made one in years.

  6. I never make resolutions… I have goals in life I’m working towards… but resolutions just seem like something that you’re only hoping will happen because it’s a new year and so suddenly you’re supposed to be someone different… same as I was last year and still going to not lose that weight no matter how many times I hope that I’ll start to work out spontaneously… like seriously I keep thinking one day I’ll wake up and actually feel like doing something healthy… maybe next year it’ll happen…

  7. One has to be careful not to set oneself up for failure when setting goals. You can devour an elephant but only by eating it one bite at a time! If you look at the elephant, you think There is NO WAY! I used to own a weight loss center (2 actually) and I would have clients come in on Jan 2 and say, “I’m getting a divorce, I quit drinking and smoking and I want to lose 50 lbs!” Yikes!! I immediately would tell them that was unrealistic and we should concentrate on maybe one or two. Clearly they can’t do all that at once, it isn’t humanly possible! *humanly* being the operative word here. I admire people who set goals and achieve them…but put them in perspective, eh?
    I try to set goals throughout the year. New Year’s resolutions have never gotten me anywhere so I stop trying. How DO you play a lute? LOL!! 😉

  8. “I’m going to lose 30 pounds, write a novel and give up bacon!” No kidding! That’s a resolution(s) bound for failure. It only took me 45 years to give up bacon, and if I lost 30 pounds I’d be the size of my 5th grader. Of course, writing a novel…

    I like the NOT resolutions best. Call me an under-achiever. (http://wp.me/p28k6D-MZ)

    1. There is definitely a value to the “not” resolutions, Shannon. I loved the ones on your post about it 😉 In fact, it inspired me to tack on a couple of “not” resolutions of my own, such as “I will not give up coffee or bacon…”

      1. You and many others. “Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.” ~ Albert Schweitzer.

        Cheers, Ned! (PS, and there is no vegan substitute for piggy bootie flesh save cannibalizing your neighbor. Sorry.)

        1. By the way, Shannon, thank you for sharing that wonderful post and its message. I may not be a vegan or even a healthy eater, but that doesn’t mean the spirit of doing what we can to live a healthy life — in oiur hearts as weell as our bodies — is lost on me. Although bacon bits wouldn’t hurt… 😉

          1. The “spirit of what we can to live a healthy life” makes life very difficult for billions who don’t exactly have a say in the matter. For them, I continue to work. 😀

  9. You also have a reader from Edmonton, AB, Canada who’s not ashamed to admit she reads your work! After next week though, you’ll have to tell people you have a reader from Winnipeg, MB, Canada – because that’s where I’ll be living!

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