Read More Fiction
Other than, you know, writing your butt off, the best way to improve your prose is to read … a lot.
Many writers fall into the trap of thinking they’re too busy with their own writing to do much reading, but that is a mistake.
You will never reach your potential as a writer if you close off avenues for new ideas and learning new words and techniques, and other authors are a gold mine when it comes to broadening your experiences.
Journal Your Journey
This one is simple but powerful: beginning on January 1, set aside five minutes a day to write down SOMETHING about what you’re doing with your writing life. Write with pen and paper, in a blog, in Google Docs, or in EverNote, but write. By committing to write down what you have done, or what you haven’t, you build in instant accountability for your writing success.
Great art — you are creating art,right? — is useless if you keep it locked up in a drawer. Yet so many writers toil for years, producing stories and even novels, without ever publishing their works.
Not only are they wasting their time, but they are missing out on a prime opportunity for improvement. Only through frequent feedback from someone who is not you can you force your writing to grow and improve.
I’m not going to tell you to lose 20 pounds or that you should run a marathon— those are specific outcomes that don’t really matter for your writing life.
What does matter, if you want to be the best writer that you can be, is that you keep your body as healthy as possible, and here’s why:
It’s darn hard to create stunning prose or blog posts that touch the spirits of your readers even when you are at your best.
If you’re short of breath, or if your blood sugar is spiking and crashing, or if your blood pressure is so high that you’re teetering on the edge of a stroke, there is no way in the world that you will be creating to your potential.
Take a Walk
Sure, walking is exercise, but it’s so much more than that!
A good walk can clear the clutter from your mind and loosen stiff muscles that are nipping at your creative process, even if you aren’t aware of it. Get away from your desk or that chair at Starbucks for a few minutes every hour or two, and take some good, long strides around the block, down the hallway at work, or out to your mailbox.
Suck in deep breaths through your nose and let them out through your mouth. Feel the oxygen flow to your muscles … and to your brain.
Set a Writing Goal Every Day
If you were to make just one resolution for the New YEar, this would be the one to grab onto. It’s painless to put into play, and it gets your writing wheels moving even if you’re standing still.
Here’s how it works:
Before you go to bed on December 31, write down two goals for January 1 —
the number or words you’ll write on New Year’s Day
to set two goals for January 2, on New Year’s night
Then just repeat this ritual day after day after day. Make your original word goal very modest — 10 words? one sentence? a paragraph? — and then build on it as the year unfolds.
That’s all there is to it … and it works!
Get Some Sleep
Everyone is super busy these days, and we make sacrifices all the time in order to fit everything in. For most of us, one of the first cuts we make is to sleep less.
There are tons of studies that show the deleterious effects of inadequate sleep, but Americans know the score on this front without much prompting: a lack of sleep can lead to mood swings, memory loss, heart disease, diabetes, and other maladies. Worst of all, sleep deprivation will rob you of your ability to put together your best thoughts for the world to read.
Your writing will suffer.
Talk to People
None of us lives on this marble alone, and we can only be at our best if we expose ourselves to the thoughts and ideas of others. A narrow world view may serve you well if you cater to a small audience of fanatics, but it will do nothing to help you reach your potential as a blogger or fiction writer, and it will stifle your creative efforts.
Nothing can pinch off your capacity to create faster than isolating yourself or becoming an unfeeling automaton. Great stories and ideas are built on emotion, and you are at a severe disadvantage if you do not allow your own feelings to blossom.
Beyond loving those who are most important in your life, generosity to others is one of the secrets to becoming the writing hero you know you can be.
The good news is that you do not have to give money in order to make this resolution work for you, although that can be part of the process, if you want it to be.
Give away something on your website.
Volunteer at the local pet shelter.
Offer to edit someone’s manuscript for free.
Take some of the load off an over-stressed co-worker.
Whatever you have to offer this world, find a way to spread goodwill each day, and your writing will open up.
Be Less “Social”
Social media is a wondrous innovation and an invaluable tool for engaging your audience and keeping abreast of the latest trends in your field. But jeez, Louise, it can also be an incredible time sink if you’re not careful. All of the Tweets, Pins, Stumbles, and Diggs in the world won’t help you become a better writer if they keep you from cranking out your next story.
You know what the main bottleneck in writing is for most people, beyond just sitting your butt in the chair and writing? It’s trying to be perfect as we create. We agonize over every word and bit of punctuation, and it cripples our productivity.
Your words are not going to be perfect at your first sitting, no matter how much time you spend on thesaurus don’t sweat it.
Now, even though you aren’t trying to be flawless when you write, you still want your finished prose to be as amazing as possible.
That doesn’t happen by accident, so you must spend a good deal of time and effort revising your first drafts … and your second drafts … maybe even your third drafts.
Don’t worry … even though fixing up your blog posts and stories is vital to success, it is not as daunting as it may at first seem.
Start each writing day by revising a previous draft for 15 minutes or half an hour, then move on to creating, unfettered.
Write Without Looking
Want an easy and thrilling way to get your word count up on a daily basis? Then you need to try writing without looking at your computer screen.
Get your writing space in place — Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, whatevener — and then set a timer for 15 minutes.
Now, go! Spew out your words onto the “paper” until the timer goes off, but make sure you’re not watching the screen as you type.
You can accomplish this in a number of ways:
Go full-screen with your writing software, then turn off the monitor and look out the window while you write.
Make your writing window small and then open up YouTube to peaceful scenes or some sort of ASMR. Focus on the YT window as you write.
Sit with your family in front of the TV and type on your half-closed laptop.
Tell Your Family and Friends … Now
Self-accountability is vital to your success as a writer, but it’s pretty easy to fool the man in the mirror, too. Or to just not look at him at all.
To short-circuit your tendency to cop out when it’s just you who will be disappointed, you need to tell your family and friends what you plan to accomplish in the New Year.
Tell your baby boy — whether he’s five or 65 — that you are going to write a new short story every week, and, by God, you’re going to have 52 stories under your belt by the time next year rolls around.