December 29

Are you setting unreasonable resolutions for your writing?

January is a fantastic month to commit to start writing a book. (Really, I’d say any month is a fantastic month to start writing a book. ;) ) The problem is that most people set unhelpful expectations for their writing.

Here are some resolutions many people are tempted to set for their book in the New Year:

  • “I’m going to write my entire book in 30 days.”
  • “I’m going to write my book in 2017.”
  • “I’m going to get my book signed with _______ publisher.”
  • “My book is going to become a bestseller in 2017.”

What makes a resolution unhelpful?

Well, let’s take them one at a time. Once you see why these examples are unhelpful, we’ll talk through some examples of good, helpful writing resolutions.

  • “I’m going to write my entire book in 30 days.”
    This expectation doesn’t specify whether you’re finishing just the first draft or finishing the first draft, all editing and revisions, and the final draft in 30 days. Writing a first draft in 30 days is totally possible, but you’d need to then allow yourself time for editing and revisions. Getting to a final draft in 30 days would be a pretty challenging task for a first-time author, and you might find yourself discouraged by February.
  • “I’m going to write my book in 2017.”
    Okay, so this may feel more helpful because you’re giving yourself time, but I would actually say that you’re giving yourself too much time. You’re not specifying what part of your book is going to get done when. If you’re like most people, you’ll procrastinate until September 2017, and then you’ll try to cram the book into the last part of the year. Not ideal.
  • “I’m going to get my book signed with _______ publisher.”
    As much as I would support the idea of getting clear on which publishers would best serve your book, I wouldn’t suggest you hang your hat on one particular publisher. If, for whatever perfectly innocent reason, that publisher can’t publish your book in the foreseeable future, you’re going to lose the motivation to write at all. You’re allowing someone else’s approval to dictate your success.
  • “My books is going to become a bestseller in 2017.”
    Again, I’m all about big goals, but this one is focusing way down the line. You first have to write the book. If all of your energy is already focused on the launch of your book, where are you going to get the motivation to sit down and write 20,000, 30,000, 50,000, or 100,000 words?

What are some more helpful resolutions you could set around writing?

Instead, make resolutions in stages, with specific goals and timeframes attached. For instance:

  • “I will gather all of my journals and notes into one place within the first two weeks of January.”
    You know you’re feeling scattered, so if you can gather up all the written bits and pieces into your office or your spare room or your writing space, you’ll start to feel like organization is possible. Two weeks is plenty of time, and if you do this in January, you’ll have kickstarted the process, right off the bat.”
  • “I will write the first draft in 4 weeks or 6 weeks or 8 weeks or 12 weeks.” (Pick one.)
    I recommend setting a very firm timeframe for finishing your first draft. Do your absolute best to spill out all your thoughts onto paper in as tight a timeline as possible because the first draft is where so many writers lose momentum. Remember, it’s a first draft, so it’s supposed to be messy, disorganized, and chaotic. All that you’re trying to do is get 90% of your thoughts into words and on paper.
  • “I will spend 2 weeks or 4 weeks or 8 weeks researching _______ topic.”
    Again, set a firm timeframe, here. Research can absolutely consume your life if you’re not careful. My background is academia, and I’ve seen research put a stranglehold on a person’s career. Chances are that you’ve already done some research on your topic. I would bet that you could hammer out a first draft and then go back to do a few weeks (no more than a few months) of research to add some depth to the arguments you’ve sketched out. The point, here, is to prevent getting sucked into the research rabbit hole by putting that timeframe in place.
  • “I will do one full revision of my first draft, and then I will hand it off to an editor, even before I feel ready.”
    If you’re one of the persistent writers who actually finishes a first draft, then, statistically, you will self-sabotage here. Most writers could spend years revising their first draft, tweaking, editing, re-writing, adding to, deleting, and growing to hate their writing more every day. Do yourself a favor, go through the first draft with one, thorough revision, and then get it to an editor. It’ll still feel very raw and vulnerable, but an editor’s perspective will help you to keep moving forward in finishing your book.

What makes a helpful writing resolution?

  • Focus on one phase of writing a book.
  • Put a specific, firm timeframe around that phase.
  • Consider committing to a particular month or months in which you will finish that phase.
  • I would even make writing resolutions for every phase of writing your book in 2017.

Here are the phases I would consider creating writing resolutions for:

  • Gathering your ideas, notes, and journals into one place
  • Organizing those ideas so you feel comfortable starting to write
  • Writing the first draft
  • Revising the first draft (on your own)
  • Editing the first draft (with an editor or editors)
  • Approving the final draft (stop tweaking!)
  • Preparing the finished draft for publication
  • Preparing a marketing plan
  • Launching and marketing the book
  • Celebrating your incredible accomplishment of writing your book

If you’re going to try for traditional publishing, consider these phases:

  • Writing a book proposal
  • Having the proposal edited
  • Compiling a list of agents and publishing houses
  • Finding an agent to work with

I hope these specific phases are helpful to you. Let me know, what are some of the writing New Year’s resolutions that you’re going to make for 2017?


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