If you’re like me, you’ve had an inbox stuffed in recent days by newsletters about people’s resolutions or theme words for the year, and following that, by a storm tide of articles claiming that resolutions are nonsense. Trust me, this post will not be (only) about writing resolutions.
But first, can I vent some mild, bemused irritation? I was ambivalent about making too many resolutions this year—though, because I am a list-maker by nature, I always give in. That changed when I read several anti-resolution articles. My contrary nature made me want to type up my resolution list in neater form, and furthermore, to expand it. And to come up with a theme word for the year as well!
The silliest thing about anti-resolution articles is their claim that about half of people don’t keep their resolutions for a year anyway. My response: Wait, half of people do? And three-quarters of people keep resolutions for a couple of months? That’s a tremendous success rate!
If you eat well, exercise, try a new hobby, or write more regularly for even a few months, you’ve made a big difference in your life. So much about this debate comes down to framing, in other words—as well as articulating resolutions carefully and positively in the first place. Eating more vegetables or drinking less alcohol for even a few weeks or months is incontestably good for you. Yo-yo dieting isn’t. The notion that something needs to be accomplished permanently is nonsense. Exposure to new habits is often needed multiple times before a good habit sticks. Simply experiencing new things—like trying a new hobby, even if you drop it—can’t be bad, either!
But my greater irritation—and maybe it’s simply surprise—comes from the idea that people get worked up about resolutions, pro or con, as if they are being forced to make them. Don’t most adults know what works best for them—and don’t they understand they don’t have to accept anyone else’s advice? Shouldn’t most adults have figured out how to establish and track goals if it gives them energy and focus, or how to create a satisfying life without lists and benchmarks, if that’s what really works best for them? And for the person who doesn’t know what works best, then—what fun! You get to experiment. There shouldn’t be any negative feelings associated with learning how your own mind and habits work.
Which brings me—at last—to writing, and what I know for sure. Yes, it’s advice, and you can embrace or reject it as you see fit. But having taught college and graduate writing students and worked with clients of all personality types, I am sure it’s advice that can’t possibly hurt you.
Learn what works best for you as a writer—and then resist the need to defend or apologize for it. As long as you are thoughtful, you know what’s best for you. No one else can.
Feeling ambitious? Make this a purposeful, consciously articulated and monitored process. Test out different ways to write, research, organize yourself, learn, network. Examine your resistances. Experiment with new things—whether it is writing a new way or dabbling in some kind of platform-building activity—and discard them when you’ve decided they are aversive or unproductive. If I directed an MFA program, I would make experiments and reflections on process a requirement. Can you believe that people leave 2- and 3-year programs not knowing about their own best processes? Yep. They do.
Let’s get more specific.
For years I assumed that “writing every day” is—while difficult—probably the best way to be maximally productive. Stephen King does it, and look at the career he’s had!
One year, as a professor in the UAA MFA program, I started an optional group exercise with students, during which we wrote daily and recorded our progress.
The experiment went well enough for me. Yes, I could write every day if I put my mind to it. In some ways, it was easier to get started when I hadn’t left a project behind for more than one day.
But after the experiment ended, I paid more attention to my natural rhythms. I recognized that if I wrote only three to five times a week, I wrote more each time. My weekly total was about the same. I didn’t feel like I was scratching and scraping to get the words down. The quality was possibly slightly better when I didn’t write every day.
I also found out—and I have to remind myself this every year or so—that what’s more conducive to my “flow state” and measurable productivity isn’t actually writing every day or even most days. It’s “touching the work” most days. That may mean re-reading my own work, jotting some notes, engaging in a research task, choosing to mentally review a scene while falling asleep, or anything else that primes the pump and allows my subconscious mind to keep creating when I am away from the keyboard. I can not write for weeks at a time without losing enthusiasm for a novel as long as I have been thinking about it in some organized way.
If I had accepted some truism about “what’s best” I wouldn’t know any of that about myself. Similarly, if I hadn’t been willing to use some forms of tracking (like logging writing time or wordcounts) and if I hadn’t been willing to observe myself, I wouldn’t know what’s best for me, either.
At this point, I may be coming across as a smug know-it-all. But let me be clear: I don’t know everything about my best processes. Every year there are specific things with which I am experimenting, and some experiments end without conclusions.
I spent 2021-2022 heavily and consciously engaged in growing platform and using social media more with some undeniably positive results, including new friendships and career connections made. Now I’m burnt out on it, and especially fatigued with Twitter (which I’ve left) and Facebook (which I check irregularly). Does this mean I could live my best writing life without using social media at all? Only a little? Only when I have a new book to promote? Am I happiest when I put time limits on my use, or simply by leaving some platforms? Or am I actually happier when I do whatever I want at the moment and simply stop worrying about it? I’m still figuring it out. But I will. I refuse to let hours of my life pour through my fingers without exercising intention and reflection.
I’m also okay with saying “I don’t know the answer to this yet.” I don’t know if I will ever want to go on a book tour again. I don’t know if I should use a pseudonym at some point for some side projects (it seems like fun). I don’t know if the time I’m investing in studying screenwriting will pay off. I don’t know if I should stick to one or two genres or write more expansively.
Here are some questions for you.
What are your best writing processes, in terms of yielding the freshest or truest material, the highest wordcount, the greatest ease or joy? Of these values, do some speak to you more than others?
What are your best platform-building, promotion, and networking processes? What gives you energy? What drains you? What makes the writing life more satisfying and less lonely? What makes you feel inadequate or pessimistic?
What constitutes your most satisfying reading life? Does it help to log your books or have year-long writing goals? Belong to a book club? Find more time each day to read? Quit books that aren’t pleasing you earlier, so you don’t waste time and can move on to “better” books? Or stick with books that don’t feel “easy” at first?
What do you not know about yourself as a writer? Name three to five things. How could you experiment or answer these questions? Is there one thing that jumps out as something, once understood, that could dramatically enhance your life? Is there an unknown that feels like an exciting mystery to solve?
I hope you’ve had fun with these questions, none of which mention weight loss or saving money (the most common resolutions). Happy New Year, 49 Writers friends!
Andromeda Romano-Lax is a book coach and the author of five novels, including Annie and the Wolves and Plum Rains, plus over a dozen nonfiction books. Among her resolutions for the year are to start each day by reading a book instead of scrolling on her phone.
1 thought on “Resolve: To Master Your Own Best Writing Practices by Andromeda Romano-Lax”
Thank you, Andromeda – as always, you capture so many of my own feelings as a writer. Since I’ve left twitter now too, I can’t retweet this. But know that I look forward to your 49Writers posts. Happy New Year!
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