New Years Resolutions from the olden days
So here we are... The year of historic inaugurations and pop legends perishing, the year of pig-spawned disease and sparkling vampire love has passed. 2010 has arrived and the time has come when a majority of Americans set their goals for change in the new year.
Do writers need the prodding of such antiquated traditions as New Year's resolutions? Does a purely verbal holiday goal really make that much of a difference? It's true that psychologists have suggested that the average annual resolution is more about an expression of hope that brings inner gratification than actual self-discipline at work, but there are certainly ways to take that expression and carry it to fruition as a true goal. E.T. Miller and G.A. Marlatt, authors of "How to Keep Up with Those New Year’s Resolutions: Researchers Find Commitment Is the Secret of Success" suggest that you need to have a "strong initial commitment to make a change", be prepared with strategies to cope with problems and obstacles that will arise, and keep thorough track of your progress, acquiring feedback where you can. Sure-fire ways to fail include coming up with resolutions at the last minute, setting goals based on what's on your mind at the moment, and using absolutes like "I'll never do <insert fatal flaw here> again." There's an excellent guide on further steps to making your resolution a success in one of PsychCentral.com's recent articles.
What sort of resolutions can writers make, especially those who are still struggling to bring their career into bloom? Here are five suggestions:
1) I will build the discipline of writing every day: While it's far easier to keep up a daily regiment when you're working on a particularly engaging project, just about every writer goes through spells of boredom, frustration, and wrestling matches with the dreaded writer's block. The discipline to keep soldiering forward with your work is key to overcoming this. While strategy will vary from person to person, set aside time each day to write something-- anything. On average it takes about twenty one days to build a habit, and routine can be a struggling author's best friend. Remember that revising is part of the writing process and certainly counts toward building this habit, though do not fall into the trap of using it as yet another tool to keep from tackling that mind-melting scene that haunts your nightmares.
2) I will read, read, read. So help me, I will read something every day: Novelist self-help guides and creative writing professors harp on this point because it's absolutely true. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read like a madman. Read both within your home genre and outside it. Read both fiction and non-fiction. Peel through the latest Star Wars novel in a day or spend the next three months reading Les Miserables'. Open up a recent edition of Writer's Digest or skim through Entertainment Weekly. Screenwriters can go to town at the Internet Movie Script Database which has plethoras of screenplays available for free. Just read like there's no tomorrow. Reading improves your comprehension of words, vocabulary, and structure, while providing opportunity for inspiration and, in general, keeping your brain exercised.
3) I will go and explore new places on a regular basis: It's a particularly bad habit of many writers to become a bit desk-bound. We start deploring the irritating light of the sun and acting a bit more like Gollum than commentators on the human experience. Some of the best inspiration I can recall I received while traveling. If you can afford to make large trips abroad, by all means do so and keep a notebook for jotting down ideas on hand (or a digital recorder). For those a bit more pressed in the penny department, do some local exploration. Citizens of Denver are quite fortunate to have a city with so many diverse locations both within its borders and within a two hour drive: swing by Confluence Park and do some people watching. Head up to Pearl Street in Boulder and revel in the glory of the eccentric. Play some epic soundtrack music while you exit the Eisenhower Tunnel. In short, have some fun and get some fresh air.
4) I will improve my vocabulary and grammar: This one will seem like a given, but it truly is amazing how many would-be novelists have banal grammar and word skills. One of my favorite books on publishing, 78 Reasons Why your Book Will Never be Published, and 14 Reasons Why it Just Might by Pat Walsh suggests that every writer pick up one of the many engaging books on grammar available in the reference sections of most book stores (Spunk and Bite and Woe is I are both basic examples, The Elements of Style being the traditional choice). Go through it with a pencil, crossing off everything you already know. After you've done this, go back to the beginning and refresh all that grammar memory that's been laying stagnant since high school. As for vocabulary, while some choose to read their way straight through a dictionary, an alternative is "Word of the Day" calenders and websites such as Merriam-Webster's.
5) I will improve and maintain my health: Yes, this one does seem a bit universal, but the modern writer's lifestyle is not exactly conducive to lowering cholesterol and keeping active. I mean think about it. We sit at a keyboard for hours, usually with a sugary or caffeine-laced beverage within arms reach, sometimes having to choose between scheduling writing time or exercise. Even so, it is crucial for writers to keep their wits sharp and their bodies in tune despite our chair-based career choice.
- Consider switching out that coffee for some white or green tea, the former of which is rich in antioxidants. The latter is quite helpful for improving metabolism and weight loss.
- Take a brisk walk at the park daily or every other day.
- Consider chucking energy dense foods like donuts and cookies for nutrition-rich fruits, vegetables, and nuts, grazing throughout the day instead of gorging.
- For goodness sakes, eat breakfast, even if in liquid form. It really is the most important meal.
- Heck, go invest in one of the many Nintendo Wii Fit or EA Active games.
- If your wallet can handle it, try P90X which has received rave reviews as an intense home fitness program (granted a 24 Hour Fitness membership is far more cost-effective).
- Drink like a fish... Water that is. Keep a tall glass or bottle within reach and fill it throughout the day. If you can't stand the taste, add some lemon or lime juice to it. You can save money on water bottles by investing in a PUR or Brita filter or pitcher.
- Don't bother with crash diets or ultra restrictive eating plans. These are just depressing for the majority of the populace. Instead, work on managing what you eat, controlling portions, and making sure you hit your essential food groups... Also, regular exercise gives you a lot more freedom as to what you can and can't get away with eating.
- Take up a physical activity like dancing (Middle Eastern dance is especially fun), archery, horseback riding, skiing, or rock climbing. The possibilities are endless, especially in Colorado. Maybe pick up a skill one of your characters is proficient in!
- This is just the tip of the iceberg, but this year, if you're going to make resolutions as a writer, make sure to put the time, discipline, and effort into them to bring them to realization. Happy New Year, Denver Writers!