In the spirit of the New Year, I offer a few thoughts for 2016.
It is hard to be original in generating resolutions. Furthermore, giving advice to others is easy. A new resolution to exercise regularly does not happen on a cold morning in January but on a warm day in the fall when a physical therapist goes to work on a frozen shoulder. In the same way, ushering in the new year is a good time to assess my work habits and practices, and resolve to continue the best of them.
The best habits for writers are simple and obvious, and I follow these every year.
1. Write every day. If you want to write, you have to write. Scribbling on the occasional weekend will not produce a professional or a polished novel. Find a place to work, either in a private room or a corner of another, and go there every day for an hour more or less. The amount of time isn’t important as long as you’re writing. If you fill a page every day, at 350 words a page, at the end of the year you will have a very long book. It will need editing.
2. Editing is also writing. Learn to polish your work, and learn all the dull bits you managed to avoid during English classes. Know the difference between there, they’re, their, and between disinterested and uninterested. Make sure you know when you’re using a sentence fragment and when you’ve forgotten to finish the sentence. Get a good dictionary, new or old, and use it. Spend time learning new words or deepening your understanding of known words.
3. Read, read, read. I never met a successful writer, or a good writer, who didn’t read widely and deeply. And after you’ve read a particular book, write a review for yourself or a review site and consider what others have said about it. Read outside your favorite genres.
But what about my personal resolutions for the coming year?
4. For various reasons, mostly lack of discipline, I find that I begin January with three unfinished mss. One is a collection of Anita Ray stories, both published and unpublished, almost ready to be sent out into the world. The second is a Joe Silva ms that I set aside until my beta readers could get to it. Time passed, and only now am I getting the reports. The third is another Anita Ray mystery, the fifth in the series, which is about eighty percent finished. I have until August to complete it. One of my goals is to complete each of these three projects. My next, and related, resolution is to not leave so many projects unfinished.
5. Over the years I have come to favor certain outlets for my fiction, and I’m not alone. We tend to send our work to editors who are receptive. It’s time for me to expand my options for fiction. I don’t know what this will lead to, but I think it’s a good idea.
6. After being retired for two years, I know that I enjoy being around people a limited amount of time. This year I think I can achieve a balance between my desire to be alone to write and my enjoyment of other people and activities “in the world.”
7. I have a few ideas for stories that don't match anything I've done so far. No one may want them, but I believe in trying new things, and this year I plan to work on them.
8. I have a few other goals, mostly from other aspects of my life. I studied piano for twelve years, and after all this time away from the instrument I realize how much I miss it. No, I’m not going to buy a piano. But I think I will take up another instrument now that I have the time.
I am often reminded of the number of artists, writers, actors, musicians, scientists, doctors, and others who find success in more than one area. Perhaps it is the luck of the draw, being born with an abundance of talent, but it is also equally likely to be the capacity to work hard at whatever one undertakes. That’s the kind of discipline I’d like to have. I’ll know better in a year if I have it. I’ll let you know what I discover.