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Should writers make New Year’s Resolutions?

Advanced tips for writers

What’s your tendency?

Have you heard of Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies? It’s one of my most intriguing reads from 2020 although I was suspicious at first – because she divides people into four groups (or tendencies) and I thought that could be reductive. But as Rubin reminds us in the book, her categories relate only to how people respond to expectations, and not to other aspects of our personalities, and most people will display traits of all four tendencies at some point.

One of the things that she discovered when researching the book was the consistency of people’s differing reactions to the idea of making resolutions – proving her point that we divide into four tendencies. At the one extreme are people who make and keep New Year’s resolutions no problem, and at the other are those who think that the whole resolution thing is a waste of time – or have a ‘why should I?’ or ‘I don’t like being told what to do even by myself’ attitude.

Somewhere in between are those who make and keep resolutions but think 1st January is an arbitrary date for doing so (I fall into the category) and others who can keep resolutions that relate to other people’s expectations (e.g. I’ll volunteer as secretary of the running club) but have a much harder time if the resolution relates to personal expectations (e.g. I’ll go running by myself every morning).

What’s your own attitude to making resolutions?

What’s your own attitude to making resolutions related to your writing? Have you made and kept writing resolutions in the past? Do you tend to make them in the New Year or at another point in the year? (Making resolutions in my birthday month makes more sense to me.) Rubin has a free online quiz you can take to see which of the four tendencies you fall into. It’s fun to see if your attitude to meeting expectations, your own and other people’s, matches up with your thinking on New Year’s resolutions. Let me know what you think in the comments.

It’s easy to assume that our own attitude to resolutions is or should be the same as everyone else’s – or the opposite, that everyone else does or should feel the same way as we do. But if Rubin is right about the four tendencies, this isn’t true. As the book discusses, our ‘tendency’ is about our attitude to inner and outer expectations. So if she’s right, whether you think of the whole idea of New Year’s Resolutions as an inner or an outer expectation is going to make a difference to your ability to make and keep them.

How does this apply to our writing lives?

My tendency, according to Rubin’s book, is ‘Questioner’ so that’s going to effect my answer to this question. (Another typical questioner response: don’t accept my response, ask your own questions!) But here are my thoughts:

January is tough

January is tough enough already. Why try to be strict with ourselves about our writing lives too? If you’re making a New Year’s Resolution related to your writing, then make it something upbeat and not a stick to beat yourself with. “I’m going to make myself a writing space that’s as comfortable and fun to use as possible (even if it’s a portable or temporary writing space) and get myself a new writing mug to go in it” is better than “I will write every day whether I feel like it or not.”

A Goal is Better

A writing goal is better than a writing resolution. Implicit in the idea of resolutions is the idea that ‘I must get / do better at X’ or ‘I must be a more perfect version of myself by doing X’. Also a resolution doesn’t necessarily come with a roadmap. A goal contains none of this implicit self-judgement, and can be broken down into smaller goals, until you get to a set of small specific actionable – and, crucially, measurable – steps. A goal can also be made at any point during the year. I wrote about this ‘small steps method’ in a book on goal setting and time management nearly 10 years ago, which is why I’m so evangelical about it – I sum up the approach in this post in case you’re curious.

Reflection is key

Having said that, I will now contradict myself (probably another Questioner trait – although I think I have a bit of ‘Rebel’ in me too). Many of us get a chance to pause and reflect at this time of the year, especially between Christmas and New Year. In fact, you can deliberately take time by yourself to pause and reflect and to make new goals. Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward has a system for doing this and so does Jinny Ditzler’s Your Best Year Yet. Neither of those books is specific to writers but both have helped me get my head around what I wanted to achieve with my writing career. Both books get you to look at your values and your roles in life as you consider your goals, which in turn helps provide balance.

Having a time of pause and reflection is more important than setting New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, you may want to build in moments of pause and reflection throughout the year, with a four day reflection time over New Year – something Michael Hyatt suggests – if that’s possible. That way you get to review what you achieved with your writing last year, and to think about what you want to write or achieve with your writing next year. Regular reviews will help you stay on track or adapt the goals as you go.

How will you quantify your writing goals?

Reflecting on your writing life allows you to think about how you want to quantify your writing. In other words, how do you want to keep track of your writing life next year? By time spent? By money earned? If there are any ‘Rebels’ still reading, presumably they’re thinking some version of ‘Why should I?’ (On the other hand, as I wrote this I assumed that true ‘Rebels’ wouldn’t have read further than the first paragraph.) My typical ‘Questioner’ answer to that is: ‘Try it and see if it works’.

Be kind, and some questions

If you’re making writing-related New Year’s Resolutions this year, my advice, as always, is to be kind to yourself. To those of you who would like to know more about planning your writing life for 2021, setting achievable goals, and how to quantify your writing, I’m creating a masterclass on exactly that. You can help me out by answering some questions about it here. (No need to leave your email address if you don’t want to – it’s the answers I’m interested in.)

More soon. Until then, happy writing!

Louise xx

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