For those who might be visiting for the first time, I should explain that I literally wrote the book on how to fail at writing. No, seriously. It’s an actual book. In it, I drew upon my 16 years as a columnist to offer tips that Writer’s Digest once called “… a shining example of why some writers go on to have successful careers as plumbers…” and what Master of Horror™ Stephen King has described as “The antithesis of precise literary implosion.”
See? I’m shucking an oyster, so it HAS to be good!
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, it raises a point: I’m fortunate enough to write full-time while also helping other writers through my editing service, so who am I to tell you not to set lofty goals for yourself?
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 at Siuslaw News 23 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 in my life — including meeting my wife on Match.com, landing in journalism, getting a syndicated column, writing three books and starting my own editing business — didn’t come by way of setting goals as much as 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 if your goal is writing for a calendar company.
So, am I saying NOT to start pursuing your writing goals this Sunday? 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. 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 flatware — they come for the food.
Unless you own a Hooters.…
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).
Whether you start that novel, memoir or screenplay today, tomorrow or Sunday, trust your instincts and remain resolute in your pursuit of your goal.
And never, ever give up bacon. That’s just silly.
Are you a writer embarking on the journey of turning their manuscript into a published book or memoir? Easy Writer can help assure your manuscript is tuned up, strapped down, shiny clean and gassed up for the road ahead. Find out more HERE