New Year’s Day is perhaps the most motivational day of the year. All around the globe, starry-eyed souls sit down to their notepads, diaries, or computers and dreamily map out their goals for the coming year.
If you’re a writer (as I’d wager you are since you’re on this blog!), then perhaps you made one or more of the resolutions I posted about last week, like writing X number of words per week or establishing a strict writing schedule.
The first of the year also lends itself to an extra-motivated frame of mind because, well, the end of the year isn’t the most productive – or disciplined – time for most of us. With shopping, decorating, traveling, eating, reveling, socializing (which is quite draining for introverts like myself), and eating some more, it’s normal for our writing to fall by the wayside, so January 1st is the perfect day to refocus and reset our priorities.
But it’s not that easy. Because there’s nothing inherently life-changing or magical about a day, and we can’t rely on the existence of fresh resolutions and a fleeting burst of inspiration to usher us to our goals. The onus lies on us – regular, fallible, imperfect us – to remain loyal to our resolutions and bring them to fruition.
In this post, I speak from experience about two primary reasons why many of us find our train of well-intended ambition derailed just seconds after it’s left the station.
I. We Aren’t Being Held Accountable
You and I are in a tough spot as writers – the spot of seclusion. Writing is an isolated practice and requires sufficient space and silence (I can’t even listen to music when I write!). Unlike other popular New Year’s resolutions, such as “Train for a marathon” or “Drop 30 pounds,” “Finishing a novel” is done quietly, alone, away from watching eyes that pay attention when we slip up.
But we slip up just as easily as those working out at the gym or trying to cook more healthily in the kitchen. The problem is, few, if any, people notice when we do and so we miss out on the tough love and pep talks that could get us back on track.
What’s the solution? A few things could do. A critique partner, for one, someone who reads your work-in-progress as it’s coming along. If you’ve told her to expect a chapter from you every week and a week goes by without her receiving anything, she has the right to be on your case!
A writing group, whether online or off, is another great way to stay on top of your writing goals. Showing up to it one day without having any work to show since your last meeting is no bueno, as my husband says, so let the avoidance of embarrassment serve as incentive to write write write!
If you’re like me, you loathe editing with the fire of a thousand burning suns. I would honestly rather write five blog posts or a college essay on the importance of social class in Pride and Prejudice than edit one chapter.
And that’s why I love beta readers!
Instead of sending them the completed manuscript, I send them one or two chapters per night during the initial proofreading (mostly editing grammatical errors and typos) phase. This ensures that I don’t procrastinate because I know they don’t want to wait very long to receive another chapter (if I’m doing my job well, that is!) and I personally hate making people wait on things. If I chose instead to wait until I had the whole honkin’ novel proofread before I sent it to betas, I might have four other full manuscripts finished before I got around to editing.
I know a lot of writers use word-count tracking tools, but I think it’s so much more effective to enlist real people, rather than sophisticated software or smartphone apps, to hold us accountable. It also helps us grow more comfortable describing ourselves as writers, that is, individuals who daily create something new in the world. (Real writers write, right!?)
“Accountability breeds response-ability.” –Stephen R. Covey
II. We Make Too Many Excuses
“I don’t have a degree in English or Creative Writing.”
“I actually failed English in school.”
“I have a baby.”
“I have triplets.”
“I have a full-time job.”
“I’m moving in six months and need to sell my house.”
“I don’t have a good computer.”
“I’m not good at marketing.”
“I don’t know how to get published.”
“I don’t know how to get an agent.”
“Only a slight percentage of writers ever get an agent, so why try?”
I could go on. Excuses are like – Never mind. I’m gonna go with another, less offensive metaphor. Excuses are a dime a dozen. We’re all busy, but I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d admit we’re often busy doing a whole lot of nothing (#SocialMediaisAnEndlessAbyssofDistractions).
The first question to ask yourself is, “How badly do I want to be a writer?”
If you’re like me, the answer doesn’t manifest itself in words, but in emotions: excitement, passion, desire, obsession… Yep, it’s pretty much just like falling in love except you don’t feel compelled to brush your hair and look like a presentable human (so maybe it’s better than falling in love).
If this giddy, insuppressible feeling describes you, well, you want to be a writer pretty bad, which leads to question #2…
“Am I willing to make sacrifices to become a writer?”
I’ve heard several successful authors say that when they were “too busy” (raising toddlers, working full time, etc.,) they would get up an hour earlier than normal to write a page or two.
One such writer, Joanna Penn of www.thecreativepenn.com, said eventually she started working part time and significantly downsized her life to cut down on expenses. She sacrificed wealth and beloved sleep to chase her dream. After a while, she was making a full-time living as an author-entrepreneur and quit her dreaded day job. Today, she’s making a six-figure income doing what she loves most in the world.
I know Netflix is the best. I know escaping into novels at night is like giving your mind a warm bubble bath. I know that sleep is utterly fabulous and that snooze buttons are nearly impossible to resist. But some, or maybe all, of the little luxuries we squeeze into our days may need to be eradicated for a while if we want to progress as writers.
“The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same.” – Steve Maraboli
My husband posted this quote to our gym’s Instagram account the other day:
I know what my answer is, and I bet you do, too.
Yes, growing pains will be as real for you as they were for Mike Seaver. We’ll have our fair share of frustrations, disappointments, failures, and days that push us to our absolute limit. But if we stay where we are, we’ll endure a much greater pain down the road: the pain of regret, the haunting questions of “What might have been? Where might I be now if I had sacrificed this or persevered through that?”
Our time here on this earth is short. There truly is no time like the present to start pursuing the things that make us feel most alive.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post and found it encouraging or inspirational in some way! What do you do to keep yourself accountable and stop succumbing to excuses? Drop a comment below or tweet me @dandersontyler. I would love to hear from you!