Thursday, December 29, 2011

10 Resolutions That Will Make You a Better Writer in 2012

It’s resolution time, and, hokey as they may be, they can actually workyou have the support of the whole world, who is also trying to start fresh. If you’re reading this blog, you should be considering some writing-oriented resolutions. Below are 10 relatively easy steps you can resolve to take right now to make yourself a better writer in 2012. Now is the time!

10.  Take a class. Hold your horses. Before you start complaining that you have neither the time nor the money to take writing classes, let me offer you some ideas. You don’t have to commit to some kind of degree, first of all. A single class can reinvigorate your writing, and you’d be surprised how cheaply you can find one. As far as time goes, there are one-day seminars that absolutely everyone can squeeze in. If you can, however, squeeze in morea weekend retreat, a minimester, a full semester. The decision to take writing classes can mean anything from a couple of hours to a couple of years, so investigate what is possible for you. As with all goals, don’t trick yourself into not even trying because you set too impossible a goal. Just because you can’t do a two-year program doesn’t mean you can’t sign up for a weekend class. As to cost, a university class or a ritzy private seminar is not the only option. Community colleges are way cheaper, and sometimes even high schools have night classes even cheaper than that. Ask at the library, as well, to see if there are independently taught classes being offered. If not, there’s always Google! For the price of a week’s entertainment, you can have a class.

9. Join a group. Words must circulate. You can be a loner if you want, but it’s much easier to gauge how good your writing is when you hear back from others. You can also learn much from others’ triumphs and mistakes. Other writers provide not only feedback and experience, but support when you need encouragement or just a deadline to meet. Check your universities and libraries for existing groups, and if you can’t find one, start one! The ideal group size is about six people. Anything larger, and you can disappear, which is not what you want. But you can have a group of two or three just as well. Ideally, you can meet face-to-face, so you can see one another and go back and forth in discussion. Quite frankly, you can do about as well on Skype. In other words, there’s no excuse for you Emily Dickinsoning yourself.

A more in-depth guide to
this issue.
8. Carve out a writing space. This is a tricky issue. For one thing, don’t you dare use lack of space as an excuse for not writing. Shame on you! You can write anywhere. The only two things you need for sure are your brain and some kind of tool. If you’re not writing as much as you want because you don’t have “a room of your own,” or a desk, or a fancy computer, you’re just kidding yourself. First of all, what Virginia Woolf was talking about, more than a physical room, was psychic space. I’m not even going to get into that in this post, because that kind of trauma is something a little beyond quickie resolutions, and, moreover, beyond my expertise. If I ever figure out the social and individual psychology of writing, I’ll let you know. Meantime, these resolutions can get you a little of that psychic wellbeing you need to write better. What you don’t need, to get back to the point, is anything fancy. Basically, if you feel like you need specific space at all, anything will do. There are only two kinds of people: Starbucks people and Emily Dickinson. Starbucks people write at Starbucks. I don’t really like them or understand them, so suffice it to say that, if you’re one of them, resolve to spend X amount of time there, writing. You can also try your library, a park, or whatever public space works. You don’t need a laptop if you can’t afford one. The good thing about the library (as opposed to Starbucks) is that you can use their computers. However, good ole paper and pen will do. You don’t need Wi-Fi, either. Just figure out what you need, and get it.

The tools you'll need for
writing . . . .
But what if you’re an Emily Dickinson? If you’re blessed with a room, good for you. Don’t have a desk? Get one. Get a chair. This is not difficult. Your “writing room” is full of crap? Get a big blue bin and put the crap in it if the mess bothers you, or swipe it off the desk and let it fester on the floor if that’s your thing. The point is to write. Don’t have a room? Write in bed, like I do, on a laptop. Bad for your posture, but, have you ever met a writer with good posture? I do understand, especially if you live with others, the need to signal that you’re working and can’t be disturbed. Believe, me, I know. But if you can’t learn to deal with distractions, you have to find a way to carve that space or risk waiting for the perfect room to materialize the rest of your life. Throw out the skinny jeans that are never going to fit again and turn the closet into a writing room. Flush a wig down the toilet, tell everybody you can’t afford a plumber, and turn the bathroom into a writing room. Get an outdoor shed or some patio furniture and turn your outdoor space into a writing room. If all else fails, go write in your car. Trade it in for a van if you want more space.

Wondering how writers
use journals? Read this.
7. Keep a journal. Confronting your life regularly can do wonders for your writing. You don’t have to write very long entries, or every day (at least once a week, however). The important thing is that you take the time to write down, to literally explain to yourself, what you are doing. It’s really hard to say “I didn’t have time to write today,” for example, when you write down what you actually did: spent two hours watching a movie, fifteen minutes commenting on your friends’ drunken pictures on Facebook, and half an hour doing the dishes. Ditch the movies, ditch your friends, and get some paper plates or a dishwasher. You can do these things, but only if you realize where your time actually goes. A journal can help you keep track of the hours. If you didn’t meet your writing goal for a certain day or a certain week, explain. Confront your own psychology, and resolve to do better. Also, a journal keeps the writing muscle supple. Writing leads to more writing. A journal entry can be a very early draft of a poem or a story, if you write down things you thought or saw but “didn’t have time to write about.” On a day when you’re out of ideas, you can go back through your journal and find inspirationand material.

6. Work on specific writing goals.
Most of these resolutions can have the effect of helping you identify what you need to work on for your writing. Perhaps the class you take will teach you some new skill you need to perfect, or the writing group keeps pointing out that your poems lack form. Perhaps, in your journal, you notice that you’re constantly complaining that your dialogue sucks. You get the idea. Identify a set of writing goalsspecific craft issues like dialogue, or maybe prosody or grammarthat you need to work on, and resolve to address them one by one. Take a class, read a how-to book, do exercises, or just practice, practice, practice. But don’t avoid your writing gaps any longeridentify them and conquer them.

A great book on prosody.
5. Read craft books or essays. Whether you’ve taken dozens of classes or none, one way in which writers can improve their craft is to read about it. There are bazillions of books, journals, and websites dedicated to the art and craft of writing. Resolve to incorporate these into your reading schedule in any way you think might work, as long as it’s regularly, so that you don’t “mean to do it at some point.” Designate a day of the week, for example, as craft day. Ideally, target your reading to your writing goals (#6). Troubled by the fact that you have no idea what “prosody” means? Read about it, dummy.

4. Read good stuff regularly. A writer who doesn’t read is most likely a poser. You can’t love writing and not read. My only caveat here is that you read good things. For example, spending half an hour reading the news on AOL is reading, but it’s functional reading, not good reading. Good reading means something that is well-written and will sink into your bones and make you a better writer yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to read in the same genre that you write. A prose writer can learn from poetry and vice versa. What it means is that you must create a symbiotic relationship between your reading and your writing, so that they feed each other. You must read actively and critically, noticing what you like and why. Incorporate your reading activity into your journalingwrite about what you’re reading and why you like or dislike it.

Moreover, read regularly. Ideally, you should be reading for hours every day, but, if you really can’t, just fifteen minutes a day can start you off on the right track. Maybe you can’t read every day, but set aside a couple of days a week to do so. If a week goes by and you haven’t gotten to your book (or whatever), something’s wrong with either you or the book. Maybe your book sucks. Get rid of it! A good book is good in the first 20 pages, or it’s gone, baby! Not liking it but it’s highly recommended by a trustworthy source (not “Crazy Dude from the Liquor Store”)? Maybe you suck. Get a reading guide, read reviews, ask somebody. Give it another 50 pages to figure out what you’re missing. If, after 50 pages, it still sucks (to you), make a decision. Continue reading so as to figure out how never to write like this yourself, or chuck it. You’re dying, every minute. There’s no time to waste on a bad book when so many good ones are out there and you’ll never live long enough to read them all. Or, perhaps what’s wrong has nothing to do with the book at all. Are you watching movies and playing 52 Pickup again instead of reading? Check your journal if you’re not sure.

3. Set aside a specific time for submitting. “Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing,” Sylvia Plath once said, and this from a woman married to a philanderer. Don’t let this happen to you. Anything remotely finished should be out at all times. Don’t worry if it’s not “perfect” yetif it isn’t, it’ll be rejected, and you can spruce it up when it comes back. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent something out just because I’m so sick of it it’s either send it out or delete it forever, and, dontcha know, it gets picked up! Doesn’t mean you send out your garbage. Don’t embarrass yourself. But oftentimes, the quest for the perfect draft ends in a stinking pile of unpublished writing. Another reason writers often slack on the submitting is that it’s tedious. That’s why you must commit to a schedule. I had a really good streak of publications when I practiced “Submission Fridays.” No, it wasn’t some S&M thingI simply committed to seeking out venues and preparing submissions every Friday, and it worked. Maybe a weekly schedule is too much for you, but at least once a month is a good goal. Something must leave the house at least once a month, or else you’ll have that stinking pile.

2. Set aside a specific time for revising. Often, a writer can get stuck in FDM (First Draft Mode). You get all excited, you write a first draft, and then you get all excited about something else, and write a first draft of that, and so forth. Nothing ever gets to publishable level. Commit to revising regularly, a time when drafting new material is simply not allowed. It can be fifteen minutes at the end of your writing time, or a certain day of the weekwhatever works. But, even if you’re rather recursive in your methodyou draft, revise, and edit all at onceyou can benefit from a revision-only moment. Ideally, this should be a couple of days to a couple of weeks after the first draft, when the material has “sat” for a little while and you’ve lost the familiarity with it that can blind you to a good revision effort. Also ideally, you can have your forced revision time right before your forced submission timethat way, you revise, and out it goes!

1. Set aside a specific time for writing. C’mon, you knew that’d be number one! Duh. Again, it can be just fifteen minutes a day, or a couple of days a weekthe more the better. It’s a job, and, if you have no other, you’d be remiss to put in less than 40 hours a week. Be a workaholic about your writing. Do more, always more. But don’t let the fact that you can’t do it full time stop you from doing it at all. A little writing is better than none, and, if you resolve to be regular about itnot “when you can” or “when I’m inspired” (ew), but Tuesdays and Fridays, 6-8 pmyou’ll write more. Remember, a writer writes.


  1. Ha! I love the video clip at the end! Such an accurate portrayal of what a writer feels like when he/she has hit a wall...

  2. One of those great movies about writing!

  3. Thanks for sharing excellent tips for writing... will try some of them out.


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