Sometimes meeting our writing goals can be difficult. I learned that myself last month when I got sidelined by appendicitis. Today I want to talk about how to achieve your writing resolutions in the New Year. This is a particularly pertinent topic for me, as I’m still getting back in the swing of things after recovering from surgery. We won’t always know what life is going to throw at us, but if we establish good habits, we can always find a way to achieve our goals, whether that means finishing that novel, or simple starting a daily writing habit.
Sign a Contract
And I don’t mean signing a book deal. In this case, I mean making a promise to yourself. The Creativity Contract is a concept that I first discovered in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her original contract is quite simple:
I, ___________________________________, understand that I am undertaking an intensive, guided encounter with my own creativity. I commit myself to the twelve-week duration of the course. I, ________________________________, commit to weekly reading, daily morning pages, a weekly artist date, and the fulfillment of each week’s tasks.
I, ___________________________________, further understand that this course will raise issues and emotions for me to deal with. I, ______________________________, commit myself to excellent self-care–adequate sleep, diet, exercise and pampering–for the duration of the course.
But I make some changes to the contract for my own writing classes. I find it’s helpful to have my students reflect on their concrete goals for the course. For some of my students, that might mean writing their first ever short story. For more experienced writers, they might want to refine a publishable collection by the end of the term.
So what do you want to achieve by the end of the year? Spend a few minutes today jotting down your goals. Be realistic, but also challenge yourself.
When I’m advising my students on starting a daily writing habit, I always tell them to experiment with different elements in their writing routine. Some people like to write in the morning, some at night. Some people prefer to write in twenty minute bursts, while others need an hour to get into a good groove. Some people need to make a cup of tea and curl up in their favorite chair in a quiet house in order to focus, while other people can scribble in a notebook in a crowded cafe. There is no wrong way to write. There’s only what works for you.
It is also important to remember that what works for you might change over time. Before the pandemic hit, I was writing on a novel during my long commute by train. When I stopped going into work, I found it difficult to work on this project that I associated with writing in this very specific space. I decided to take a break from that project and work on other writing while I found a new routine for my stay-at-home lifestyle.
Join a Group
Having a writing group is one of the best ways to increase your accountability. I’m part of a bi-monthly writing on Zoom, and sometimes knowing that my friends are looking forward to seeing my latest chapter is all I need to push through a difficult passage.
Even if an in-person writing group is off the table right now, there are many different kinds of writing groups that can fit your lifestyle. If you are new to writing, taking a writing class online can be a great way to meet other writers. The friends that you make in your writing class might end up being your critiquing partners for life.
Remember, a single slip up doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Unexpected difficulties will always pop up in your life. After I had my appendectomy, I couldn’t write for almost a week. I was groggy from pain killers for the first few days, and my incisions made it difficult to sit upright at a computer. I missed a lot of goals that I had made both for this blog and for my other writing projects. It is natural to feel discouraged. Even after I recovered from my surgery, my routines had all been broken and I’ve had to work to establish them all over again.
But sometimes feeling discouraged can make us give up on our goals altogether, and that is a trap to avoid. I once had a roommate who was always trying to quit smoking. Every time she broke down and had one cigarette, she would think, “well, this attempt to quit smoking has failed, so I might as well finish the pack.” Then she’d need a new pack. Soon the cycle would start again.
It’s inevitable. At some point, you are going to fail to meet your goals. But the important thing is that you try to get back on track as soon as you can’t. Don’t wait for another New Year’s resolution to start again. You can renew your commitment to your writing in any season of the year.