Whether you’re pondering the end of the year or just want a fresh start in any season, having some ground rules for how you’ll behave with your writing can make a huge difference in the productivity and quality you get with your drafts. These are some of the writing resolutions I recommend to anyone who is serious about the craft.
1. Set yourself up with proper tools.
The goal here is simply to be able to respond wherever and whenever concepts come to you. That can be as simple as jotting down a single word for later, but the tools should be something you can share and backup easily, and that get you into a good state of creative flow. Decide what feels good to you and finally invest in what you actually need, rather than making do.
2. Get organized.
This doesn’t necessarily mean outlining everything, creating a strict writing schedule or eliminating desk clutter, although those efforts can be helpful for certain people. I’m talking more about not having 20 different digital files for the same story, folders for each work in progress or market, and having formal systems for tracking queries, submissions or general drafting progress.
Commit to sorting what you have and create new customized-for-your-own-goals methods for streamlining and preventing future messes. The more streamlined you are and the more cleanly you can work, the more efficient you’ll get overall in the long run. Efficiency can give you both more content and more enjoyable drafting time, so be patient and follow through on this point, even if it takes you a few days, weeks or even months to get yourself together.
One notable point here: As you submit, you’ll likely find that you create a bunch of documents based on specific requirements editors/agencies have. One might want a document with four chapters and a synopsis, for instance, whereas another might want 10 pages and your bio. If the requirements are outside your templates (#5), then save the documents in a separate folder. They generally end up never used again because they’re specific to one house/business/professional, so don’t put them where they will confuse you compared to your final materials/drafts, and have a regular time to empty the folder into the trash.
3. Stop judging.
I understand that everyone has a history. I get that people want something that is “sellable” to the popular market. And there is merit to critiquing yourself to make sure that you’re giving your best, to analyzing for the sake of the story. But what truly makes a great writer is their ability to find their own voice, to choose topics, words and structure that feel like home. You do not do that by censoring yourself on the fly based on what you think others will think or want. Judging your drafts too deeply as you write will either make the job feel weighted down or create cliches, and neither will help your career.
4. Actually study the market.
You should end up with something pretty unique if you follow #3. Even so, you need to know where your piece sits. What pieces are most like yours? How and where are they marketed? What specifically makes them different from yours? What’s your genre worth nationally and globally, and what’s typical for sales and revenue?
All of this information is essential for creating stand-out queries and proposals. Agents, editors and publishers want to know that you’ve got a grasp of the potential for the work, and you need to convince them that you’ve found the balance between sellability and freshness.
But studying the market also allows you to identify gaps, too. And if you see an area that writers aren’t filling, then you can create what is missing and have direction for future projects that aren’t like anything else anybody else is doing.
As you study the trends and needs, keep track of editorial changes and mergers/acquisitions of publishing companies/agencies. Most professionals in industry expect a formal salutation, and your chances of getting a query/submission read seriously go up if you take the time to verify who should be getting it in the first place. Also stay updated on standards such as whether to submit in-text or via attachment. Technology is shifting requirements fast, but if you organize well enough (#2), then you should be able to adjust quickly and flexibly based on individual requirements.
5. Create some templates.
I cannot stress this enough. Templates save you time, which you then can convert to real, creative writing. So where you can, create some boilerplates. For instance, even though you need to personalize your queries, you can create a template that at least has your contact information, bio paragraph, closing paragraph and clips/reference URLs. I have several of these tweaked to different markets, with each one holding different clips. This means that all I really have to do is create the hook and summary paragraphs for new works and I’m good to go. So think about what you will need to have on file to avoid doing the same work twice (or more). Take the time to prepare a bit to save hassle later.
6. Get out of your reading rut.
Some people swear by reading goals, but I’m not all about reading a certain number of books or words each day–I’d much rather that you worry more about whether you learn. So challenge yourself in your choices. Pick a few books out of your normal genre or even that you think at first glance you’ll despise. Some of it is just market research (#4 above). You need perspective about the industry as a whole. But it’s also about exposure to different voices and information, identifying what your own preferences are or why you think something does or does not work. Those points of clarity can lead you not only to develop your own style, but to find mentors and other authors who can support you.
7. Figure out social media.
You should be on social media to engage with other writers, editors and others, and to let readers know you’re there. Agents and publishers want you to have platforms, and social media can be a great way to stay on top of the market and present your writing. But always worry more about being genuine and contribute something of value than about technicals. There’s no substitute for seeming human and empathetic.
Lots of writers want to hurry through and won’t put the time or money into their career that they need to. These resolutions, however, are reminders that you should treat the craft like a real business, and that you have a great deal of say about how productive and enjoyable it can be. Keep them close and use them as your foundation for great everyday writing.