But are writing resolutions doomed to fail, like so many abandoned January diets and exercise plans? No! (In fact, the writing goals are so often the cause of the failure of those diet and exercise plans, but that's another story.)
There is evidence about what strategies turn resolutions into habits and goals into accomplishments. In the New York Times a few years ago, Kevin G. Volpp, a staff physician at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center and a professor at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where Katherine L. Milkman, professor at Wharton, published How to Keep Your Resolutions, based on their own research and a review of current behavioral health and economics research. It seemed like good advice then, and I've been adapting their strategies for writers' resolutions.
1. Make a concrete plan.
If you don't have a plan, they're not resolutions. They're wishes. Plan is to write X number of words in Y number of days and to be finished at Z date. And once you've made your concrete plan, you don't have to cast it in concrete. The best plans have flexibility built in. If you skip a day or fall behind, you are not a failure. Just begin again.
2. Put something you value on the line.
In other words, put skin in the game. If you have a contract, you already have money on the line. If you do not, you can act like you do. Milkman and Volpp suggest putting aside money for forfeiture if you don't achieve your goals, but you could give something else up materially. Or you could put your reputation on the line if you announce your goals widely enough that you have neighbors and Facebook friends inquiring after your progress.
3. Bundle temptation with the hard part.
Number 2 is the stick. Number 3 is the carrot. Milkman and Volpp say that if you want to exercise more, try to bundle that with an addictive activity like listening to audiobooks: "Our research demonstrates that when you leave your copy of “The Hunger Games” (or such) at the gym, you exercise 56 percent more often," they wrote. Big points for using a YA novel as the example (but points off for calling it "trashy).
Naturally, if you want to write the next Hunger Games, you can't listen to it or you might literally rewrite The Hunger Games. Try bundling something else – your favorite kind of tea you can only drink while revising, a glass of wine you can only pour after you've gotten your nightly words in, a favorite binge watch or read.
4. Seek social support.
Even introverted writers need social support (If you're here, thank you for being part of mine) Whether a critique group or an online community, writers need and give accountability and support. That's what writing challenges like National Novel Writing Month and Storystorm and online groups like Mastermind and SubItClub are about – accountability, consistency, the transformation of resolutions into habits.
Since you are part of my social support, I'll confess that I'm still struggling to finish the novel I started more than a year ago, but I've published a picture book during that time and drafted and polished up six other manuscripts. What are my resolutions for the new year? Finish and revise the novel, draft six more picture books. Then publish them.
But that last one isn't a resolution – it's an ambition. So here is bonus tip number five from me:
5. Make sure your resolution is in your control.
A resolution isn't something you want to achieve – it's something you want to do. Much of publishing is out of our hands. No matter how good your writing is, an agent or a book contract or a bestseller list may not happen within a specific time frame. You can work towards it, but you can't control it.
The writing is in your control. Giving and seeking writing companionship is. Putting your heart and ego on the line by querying, submitting, and seeking out readers is.
But what if you miss your goals? Break your writing resolutions? That's OK too. There's always another challenge around the corner, and you can make a fresh start at any time. Don't believe me? Professor Milkman says that too. So let's make that tip number 6.