Friday, March 24, 2023

Three Tools for Getting through the Post-New Year's Resolution Slump

We're a few months past the "whee" of New Year's resolutions when anything seems possible. I love setting them, but I also know how to create ones that I will keep.

Around mid- to late March, the truth comes out--how many did I actually make progress on this time? If I've used three essential tools, the odds are more in my favor.

Because I've written and published thirteen books in three genres, working now on my next two, I've had a lot of practice at success or failure with this. I also know how down I can get when I don't meet my own promises to myself, especially in an important arena such as my writing life.

So back to those three tools I rely on. In order of how much they matter, they are: (1) accountability, (2) inspiration, and (3) determination.

You may be surprised that accountability is first on the list, but it's the deal maker or breaker, in my opinion.


There are two kinds of accountability, as you probably already know: external and internal. (For more on this, read Gretchen Rubin's marvelous book, The Four Tendencies.) External accountability comes from outside of you, in the form of having to show up for someone else or a deadline. Internal accountability is what drives you from inside, just for your own satisfaction.

I learned in my years as a journalist that my writing life thrives with external accountability. I do my best when I have a deadline, a show-up date to deliver my chapter or scene to an editor or writer's group or my writing partner. I need people who care that I'm still writing. Best, of course, is a paid deadline. But with books, that only comes with a contract.

I appreciated having an agent for four of my books. They helped me set a deadline, and although it drove me nuts sometimes, I kept my promise to them and delivered the pages.

Some people find it easier to promise others than promise themselves. Writers who are good with internal accountability usually call themselves "disciplined." Many of us keep plugging away on our own when the project is exciting or new, or the revision is really going well. My norm for internal accountability only is about five weeks. After that, I need external reasons, outside my own head, for showing up.

I'm not being negative when I say this: Most writers, without external accountability, will have a hard time keeping going. Maybe you'll last longer than my five weeks, but I'll bet by next month, some of your enthusiasm from your New Year's goal wanes.

Since I know this about myself, through many years of hitting the wall, I plan for it. Last week, I signed up for an online class with weekly deadlines. It will keep me writing.

I am very thankful for both my writing partner and my writer's group, as well as my editor. They keep me honest. And writing.

What's your flavor of accountability? What do you need to keep your promises to yourself as a writer?

Real inspiration is a writer's main energy. Pushing yourself via discipline works for a while but most burn out without regular inspiration. Julia Cameron made a killing on this idea with her book The Artist's Way and her weekly artist dates. She encouraged us to go out and seek inspiration. Mostly, to give ourselves new ideas. To fill the well.

I find inspiration by reading good literature. I subscribe to literary journals online and in print. I read Poets & Writers magazine and several other publications. All of this takes time, but it's clear when I don't make time for reading, my well of inspiration begins to dry up. Even if it's just fifteen minutes before bed, it fills the well a little bit.

I don't read to numb out anymore(I used to--and it's still great on vacation sometimes). I read to inspire myself. I get ideas from what I read, and I get new ways to structure my scenes and chapters. I ask my past students for recommendations, I ask my Facebook friends, I comb Goodreads.

Another key to keeping inspired is encouragement from fellow writers. I cultivate this. I am very cautious, too. I've partnered with great writers who were super critical--and at first, this was edgy and interesting. But after weeks no positive encouragement, I dropped them. I need the "what's good" as well as the "what to fix."

Where does your inspiration come from? What keeps your artistic well filled?

You've got to want to write. Writing is not the fast way to fame and fortune. It's hard. It takes work. And the will to do it has to come out of your core, your heart, your passion. Your desire to write must remain an important element in your crazy-busy life if you're going to produce a book.

It comes down to this, for me: Writing has to feed you--and not just the hope of becoming a bestseller and retiring early. The process itself must matter to you. That creates the determination a writer needs to move forward.

I find my determination comes best when I write every day. The story itself begins to fill me up. I begin to live it, cherish it.

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