New Year, New Writing You

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. … Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. —G. K. Chesterton

 

Not everyone is a fan of New Year’s resolutions.

How many social gatherings have you attended and heard someone (maybe it’s you?) griping about people using the beginning of a new year as a reason to try and make some positive changes in their lives. Here at Kirkus, we embrace this time of year. How else better to reflect back on the year‪—both the exhilarating highs and the devastating lows—to track your journey?

“You always go nuts this time of year,” a dear friend grumbled at me last week. “It’s like you use this time of year to take stock and then come January first, it’s all ‘MAKE CHANGES.’”

Guilty as charged. And thoroughly unrepentant about it.

When you are a full-time writer who works from home, there is rarely anyone there to motivate you. (Other than your deadlines, of course. Being able to afford a bubbly beverage on New Year’s Eve depends on meeting those.) But sometimes, whether we like it or not, we find ourselves slipping into routine. “Are you a good habit, or a bad habit?” I wonder silently as a bowl of popcorn becomes yet another lunch. Because sometimes the very habits that we find so necessary are the ones we need to start looking at. And this time is as good as any other to start examining them carefully.

When you’re a writer, you have no boss lurking over your shoulder, checking in, scheduling an annual review. There’s no discussion about your highs and lows, and where you need improvement. Of course, chances are, you already have a very good idea of what you need to change, how you’d like to challenge yourself, and what successes you’d like to carry over into the new year. Because being a writer forces you to face yourself—even when you don’t want to.

A fresh new start is a good way to jump-start your motivation and your creativity. And what better place to start than with your writing?

1. Throw yourself a party

The old year is over, and you survived it! There were probably times you wanted to call it day, chuck your laptop at a tree, and then curl up with fuzzy blankets and weird-flavored chips while you binge-watched RuPaul’s Drag Race.

On the other hand, there were probably times you exceeded even your own expectations. Maybe you got a book deal, sold an essay, managed to keep Twitter down to an hour a day. Maybe you started a new job or left an old one. Or maybe this was the first year you transitioned to writing full time.

Whatever you did, didn’t do, triumphed, or failed at, celebrate it. You deserve a party for making it through the year. And one of the best ways to kick off a new start is by taking some time to look back at the year with a cup of (very strong) cheer.

2. Create your own (mini) writing retreat

Writing retreats can be expensive. For writers with families, they seem almost impossible. And sometimes, you just don’t have the luxury of taking a week or two (to say nothing of a month) to recharge and get serious with your book. So take a mini writing retreat. Plan something nearby for a day or two. Maybe it’s borrowing a friend’s cottage. Maybe it’s house-sitting. Or maybe you can afford to splurge on a nice hotel somewhere for a night or two. Even if it’s just taking the day or the afternoon to go write somewhere new that inspires you.

Change up your routine, go somewhere new, and give yourself permission to just write. It’s all you really need.

 3. Challenge the way you work

Sometimes the best way to shift your life is to shift your perspective. One way you can do this is by challenging the fears you have about writing and publishing—fears that might just be holding you back from taking your writing to the next level.

How do you do this? Get some inspiration. Talk to other writers about their processes. Draw on the wisdom of published authors. But mostly, it starts with trying something new and seeing what happens.

More often than not, writing for me involves giving myself a terrible scolding for not being better, for not capturing the things in my brain on the page properly. And then I watched a TED talk that shifted my perception. In the thought-provoking presentation “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert argues that sometimes the kindest thing we can do for our self-criticism is to, well, blame someone else. 

“People believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons,” Gilbert says, noting that the Greeks and Romans often believed that the “creative spirit” was an actual, literal spirit. A muse. “So brilliant—there it is, right there, that distance that I’m talking about—that psychological construct to protect you from the results of your work. And everyone knew that this is how it functioned, right? So the ancient artist was protected from certain things, like, for example, too much narcissism, right? If your work was brilliant, you couldn’t take all the credit for it, everybody knew that you had this disembodied genius who had helped you. If your work bombed, not entirely your fault, you know? Everyone knew your genius was kind of lame.”

4. Set some (uncomfortable) new goals

Want to level up your writing? Don’t wait for success to come to you. Chase it down. This year, set some firm goals with firm deadlines for achieving that next step in your writing career. Whether it’s getting a book deal, publishing a short story on your favorite site, or even deciding to hire an editor and self-publish your book, give yourself a deadline and take the first steps.

The trick? Make sure your goals are outside of your comfort zone. While your comfort zone is there to keep you safe from dangerous risks (like snacking on expired deli meats), it can also stop you from taking risks that will propel you forward. So nudge yourself out of that snugly little place a bit. Go on. Try it.

5. Extend a helping hand

Writing can be an incredible insular career. It can also be (oh hi, Captain Obvious) incredibly challenging. But once the writing bug has you, it latches itself to your soul. Still, chances are, somewhere in your varied life and experiences, you have the means to help another writer.

Consider volunteering some advice on Twitter about their plot. Approach a struggling writer and offer to edit a chapter or two—or send them a gift certificate for a bookstore. If you’re a published author, this is a good time to reach out to your agent or editor about offering blurbs to new and emerging writers. Or maybe if you’re just starting out, you can reach out to others in the writing community and offer to be a beta reader. You might also think about holding classes, or even working with your local community center to create or help out with a writing program. At its most basic form of help, support other authors by buying and reviewing their books.

The writing community gets bigger every year, and we are all on this long, strange journey together.

And sometimes the best change for your writing isn’t the one in your brain, but the one in your heart.

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