I think we can all agree that 2016 was a pretty rocky year for the world. It was the kind of year that you know your kids one day will be studying at school – and not for good reasons. Between the terrorist attacks, political meltdowns and saying goodbye to some of our most loved icons, I think 2016 will be a year a lot of people want to forget. Which leaves me conflicted because, actually, I had a pretty great year as a writer. I published a book (Check It Out); I not only took part in a literary festival but spoke on a panel as an actual real-life author (I have a badge to prove it and everything) and did so alongside Martina Cole!!; I finished another novel; completed both Camp NaNoWriMo and the main event herself; I even braved the wild and bewildering world of Instagram; and (for those fellow fangirls out there) I visited not one but two Diagon Alleys!!
I leave the last year behind with my head held high. I may not have achieved absolutely everything on my list but I did pretty darn well. I sat with a very satisfied smile on my lips when I opened my 2016 envelope on the 31st and realised, for the first time in a very long time, that I’d done myself proud and achieved a lot of the things I’d set out to do. It was only when I sat down to look to 2017 that I realised that put me in a whole new position.
How the hell do I top all of that?
I’m not going to lie. I sat there, staring at the blank page and felt overwhelmed. How the hell did I top that? I thought I’d pushed myself in 2016. I did things of which I never dreamed I was capable. The idea of taking a step further into the unknown and pushing those boundaries even harder is terrifying. It got me to thinking how I’d achieved all that in the first place. If I work that out, I can repeat it. Or that’s the theory right?
I decided to post it here because I figure I’m not the only one going through this. I talk to so many fellow writers who at this time of year are full of so much fire and determination, who want to achieve so much in the year to come but then talk to them the following December and fire has turned to barely glowing embers and determination has been worn away by a year of life getting in the way once more. I know this, because until this year, I saw this process on an annual basis in the mirror. So I thought I’d write out a blueprint so I don’t fall into old habits so here’s…
#Tip 1: Have The RIGHT People Around You
For me, this is the single most important feature. 2016 was a year I made amazing friendships. I launched myself into the local writing scene and have spent every moment since kicking myself for not doing so sooner. Being around other writers is like having caffeine pumped straight into my veins. I love it. The energy. The enthusiasm. The power of the ideas sat in that coffee shop at that moment. I love laughing over awful wordpuns when procrastinating. Or discussing the pros and cons of guns versus swords. I have learnt so much this year from the people around me. Friends. Family. Fellow Writers. Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
#Tip2: Be Passionate AND HONEST
An important step for me was getting over my fear to be passionate for writing and a career therein. It sounds simple but it can be one of the hardest steps to take. It makes me sad to say it, but admitting aloud that you want to be an author gets greeted with about the same level of cynicism as “mum I want to be Paris Hilton”. If you are going to reach your goals, first you have to admit to yourself, and the world, that you want it.
You have to be honest.
I was literally shaking the first time I had to stand up in front of people and admit that I was an author. More than that, that I want to be an author. That someday I want to quit my day job and be an author full-time. I am terrified of admitting it. Even writing it now, my fingers are resisting. The fear of failure, the instinct to cringe away from opening myself to personality assassination that normally involves the words “hopeless dreamer”, the uncertainty of it is overwhelming. But until I accepted what I wanted to do, I couldn’t go about making plans to make it happen.
At the local literary festival in 2015, I promised myself I would return in 2016 as a published author. That became a resolution when January came around a few months later. I was scared of the idea. Terrified actually. I had no idea if I had it in me. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. But I drew up my to do list around that singular goal and, almost to my own surprise, come that same festival in 2016, I stood up as Maxi Bransdale, published author and it felt so good!
Look in the mirror and be honest. What do you want for yourself as a writer? Is it a hobby or a career? Do you want to publish one book or a dozen? You cannot set goals and targets until you know what your endgame is and you cannot know that unless you are completely, and brutally, honest with yourself.
#Tip3: Take Risks
In every aspect. As a person. As a storyteller. As a writer. Travel Europe on a Vespa. Write the stories that make you blush, or cringe, or both. Tell the tales that when you try to explain the plot premise people raise speculative eyebrows. Put yourself out there. Stand up in front of a room full of strangers and declare yourself a writer. Say yes to things. Be bold. Be brave. Be uncompromising.
#Tip4: Know what you want to achieve
With your holistic goals sorted back at #2, it’s time to look at details. I think this helped me so much last year. I actually knew what I wanted to achieve from the outset and the rest of my resolutions formed the to do list to get me there. It changes everything. I had chance to plan things across the whole year. I knew what festivals were coming up months in advance so I could start making contacts and getting involved. I knew I wanted to publish my book so I sat down and worked out exactly what I needed to achieve to do that and could do the research and give myself the time I needed to finish it. Think in categories. How many words do you want to write this year? Is there a project you want to commit to finishing (and how do you define finished – the end, or fully edited, or submitted to agents, or published)? Is this a writing year or a publishing year for you? Both? Are you self publishing or traditional publishing? Now is a great time to ask these questions. Do your research and work out what is right for you. Is there an event you’ve always wanted to go to but never found the time? Is there a course you’d like to do? Do you have social media targets? Sales targets? Blogging targets? Be brutally honest with yourself and write down nothing less than you will feel satisfied with come December 31st.
#Tip5: Keep Reading
With writing comes its oft neglected friend, reading. I love reading. I am Hermione Granger. I was the kid that ran out of books to read in the library. But adulting is hard and sometimes life gets in the way. I have a bad habit of when I do have a free ten minutes, I always prioritise writing over reading. This year, one of my big targets, is to level that balance. Reading makes us better writers. They deserve equal attention. Goodreads is a great way to track your progress and share with other readers.
#Tip6: Keep it Achievable
You know when you are a kid and people ask what you want to be when you are older and responses tend to range from Premiership footballer to astronaut to prima ballerina? It is so easy to turn writing resolutions into a wish list. Problem with wishes is they are not always tangible or achievable. For example, one could target 500,000 book sales. However, I am self published and I am just starting out. I would love to sell that many books. Every author out there would love to. But setting a goal like that isn’t helpful. I set aims, not wishes. I hope to sell 500,000 but I aim to sell 10,000. Resolutions quickly become stressful and overwhelming if you make them too big. So keep them small. Life does get in the way so set yourself goals that allow for this. Some people will categorically disagree with me here. For some people, the “shoot for the stars” approach works. For me, and my personal advice, is still shoot for the stars, of course shoot for the stars, what is the point of life if we don’t, but use this checklist not as a place to list the endgame, use it as a place to list the stepping stones you need to achieve to get there.
I’m one of those people who needs deadlines. I need something to be held accountable to. I used to think it was a personality flaw. That I was just less driven than those people who get stuff done without a ticking clock of impending doom. I’m not and it isn’t. I’m just different. My brain is wired differently. Personally, I blame school. My brain got so used to working to deadlines, it doesn’t know how to function without one.
So I write my writing resolutions down and I hold myself accountable to that half side of A4. Deadlines are still deadlines even if you give them to yourself. I work out what I want to have achieved by when. I actually have a diary specifically just for all my writing stuff so I can manage both my time and expenses throughout the year.
And the best part? You get to open that to do list on December 31st and tick your way down it with a big ole smug grin.
All that’s left to say is good luck 🙂 Cheers fellow writers and here’s to making 2017 our best writing year yet!!