New year resolutions are nonsense: studies continue to dismiss this age old tradition. But people – you, me, the man who forgets to wear pants who lives next door – all of us feel that a new year means change.
Blame history and religion for your mislaid optimism. Ancient Bablyonians and Romans made promises to their gods to pay off debts and turn over a new leaf. Christian Methodists created in the 1700s the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, “served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year.” Now popular with evangelical Protestant churches, services held on New Year’s Eve are often spent praying and making resolutions for the coming year.
So what’s a writer to do? Is this the time to set your writing goals for the year or not?
Yes but there’s a big but in the room along with your intentions. To set new writing goals for your year, here’s what you do:
- Pick a small project first to set the habit. “Get more writing done” is vague and “write a book” is not small. If it’s going to be sustainable, it has to be easy to do, give you immediate success, and be repeatable. For example, mine is “write in my 5 minute journal every morning and night.” Easy peasy as I leave the journal next to my bed and it’s the first thing I see when I look for my glasses or alarm.
- Attach the new action to a previous habit. It will cue your brain into adding on to the already established pattern of action. Think: figure out a habit you already have, such as having your morning coffee first thing, or sitting down to check your mail right at 9 am. I do the coffee thing first. I put the kettle on, and write a few ideas down as I wait for it to boil. Then as I sip for the first 10 minutes, I work out a few ideas in my head. Done.
- Forget motivation, act first. Waiting for the moment to be motivated, feel like or inspired to write is nonsense. If you are serious about being a writer who does this to make a living, you do what Leonard Cohen did and write every day even if it’s crap. To quote the brain trust again: “Because you are trying to establish a conditioned response, you need to practice the new habit from the existing stimulus from 3 to 7 times before it will “stick” on its own.” You do the sitting down and do it all the time. Action first, motivation second.
Are you setting new writing goals for the year? Feel free to share it with me on social media and tag it #amwriting. Happy New Writing!