By Beth Crosby
Did you make New Year’s resolutions? Have you kept them or broken them in these few weeks, or did you give up on making them years ago like I did? Perhaps my short attention span ruined my hopes of keeping resolutions. Maybe the goals were too high to achieve in only 365 days. Possibly, I just don’t persevere.
Whatever the reason, I resolved to no longer fail at New Year’s resolutions. But that doesn’t keep me from dreaming dreams and setting goals that I can meet throughout the year.
Science tells us that we can master only one new thing within a month, so try to do one new thing after you achieve mastery of the previous, after it becomes or ceases to be a habit. To stop smoking would be an example of a habit to quit.
If you know you want to write, consider setting deadlines for yourself to write daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Maybe you want to enter contests or attend workshops and conferences. Put these on a calendar and set deadlines along the way to register, book flights and hotels, and write submissions for critiques that workshops frequently offer. Setting short deadlines allows you to resolve to hit that goal each time you see the calendar, then on to the next goal.
Keep a list of things to write throughout the year, based on entry deadlines. Some people like lists, while others prefer writing topics or deadlines on a calendar. If you want to just keep ideas handy, put them each on a slip of paper in a fun box or jar. I use a few of the methods below. Try them and see which ones work best for you.
- Keep a list of inspirations.
If lists are your go-to method, then write lists of topics, characters, settings, or other inspirations. Create a different list for each.
- Create a visual kaleidoscope of ideas.
We are more excited about writing when we have an idea or feel passionate about a topic. So use a colorful jar or box that makes you smile. Put ideas that excite you about writing above on different sizes, shapes and colors of paper. The idea could be a name. Or you might feel a stroke of genius and write a sentence or paragraph that you like. Then when you are moved to write and lack a topic or subject, consult your kaleidoscope of ideas.
- Write start dates and deadlines on your calendar.
To use my own example, I know that I must write this column monthly, so it is on the calendar along with the blog posts I write and projects I edit. Everything in my life is included on one calendar. To create a separate calendar for writing, soccer, or anything else makes overlooking the dates easy. You might even need to schedule time to research your topic, in addition to actually writing.
- Create a spreadsheet(s) of ideas.
We are inundated with ideas. But how can we keep up with every one that strikes a chord? Using a spreadsheet is a terrific way to sort characters, settings, topics, plots, references, and books to read. You might prefer a separate spreadsheet for each, or a workbook with different tabs for each topic. If you choose this option, routinely or back-up your files or print the spreadsheets.
- Create a reference spreadsheet.
I got this idea from Roxie Hanna at a writing workshop. Some of us collect words, articles, poetry, even cartoons. So how do you ever find these things again? One method can be used in two ways. Use a spreadsheet to “search” or “find” key words for your writing. If you have a paper reference, put it in a sheet protector and then into a binder. Then put numbered stickers on the sheet protectors on the top or bottom corner. On the spreadsheet beside number one, write across the row the key words you would use to refer to that article. For example if the first article is called, “Music and Math: How the Arts Strengthen Basic Skills”, the keywords might be music, math, elementary school, teacher, and arts funding. Number two might be “2015 Baby’ Names Reflect Successful Box Office”. So keywords could be Emma, Noah, and Olivia. You might reference this for a character born in 2015. Another alternative is to scan in the articles and save them with file names that reflect the number on the spreadsheet as above.
- Search your personal library, reading wish list, newsletters, or e-mail subscriptions.
Look at the books, magazines, and genres. What resonates with you? Do you find mostly biographies, flash fiction, or thrillers? Pick one that you especially enjoyed. Determine what you liked it so much. Now go make it your own. It doesn’t have to be a best-seller, but the practice gets you into the habit of writing regularly about something you enjoy.
Whatever writing goals you set, make them realistic but not easy. Challenge yourself to write beyond what makes you comfortable: short stories, memoir pieces (which differ from autobiographies), and even poetry. See if you can illustrate your ideas. Write daily, weekly, monthly, and challenge yourself to enter contests and publications. Keeping these resolutions will make you a stronger writer by year’s end.