This is a post from New Year’s Day in 2018. A friend told me that it had inspired her to take a big step forward in her writing practices, and she asked me to run it again. So here it is:
Even if you don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, I think they’re a good idea for writers. It’s useful to have a tradition of taking stock of your writing practices at least once a year to see if there’s something new you should be doing.
Here are some suggestions. (Don’t overdo it – choose only one!)
- Set a daily writing goal. You’ll be following in the footsteps of many famous writers who challenged themselves to write a set number of pages every day. When Bernard Shaw was starting his writing career, he forced himself to write four pages a day. If he skipped a day, he wrote eight pages the next day.
- Spend five minutes a day exploring the features in your word-processing software. I’m endlessly shocked (“appalled” is probably more accurate) by the writers I meet who don’t have basic word-processing skills such as find & replace, save as, and autocorrect. It’s fine (and fun!) to play with the pull-down menus, and you’ll learn a lot.
- Start adopting the working habits of professional writers. If you’re using open-source software, save up and install Word on your computer. Learn how to use the Styles feature in your word-processing software. Stop underlining for emphasis (professionals don’t do it, and neither should you). Learn how to punctuate direct quotations (in the US, the commas and periods always go inside). If you’re still spacing twice after a period, STOP IT!
- Learn about formatting manuscripts and books. Smashwords.com has a free ebook that will teach you how to do this (that’s how I learned): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52. You can read it on any e-reader or just download it to your desktop as a .pdf.
- Read at least one good book about writing or language. Start with (of course) The Elements of Style. Other recommendations include anything by Theodore Bernstein or John McWhorter; Adair Lara’s Naked, Drunk, and Writing; and Mary Norris’s Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.
- Join a writing group. If there’s no group in your community, start one. Your public library probably has a meeting room that you can use free, and it will help you publicize your group.
- Learn about online resources available through your library card. You may be able to access ebooks, newspapers, magazines, and reference books at home, free. Good writers are good fact-checkers and researchers.
- Set up a free Google Alert for a topic that interests you (especially if it’s related to a writing project). Because I’ve published a book about writing better police reports, every day I receive a free list of links to news stories that involve police reports. Some of those stories provide useful fodder for my blog and help me sell books.
- Join LinkedIn. Set up your profile, upload a photo, and get involved in at least one group (listed under the Interests tab). LinkedIn puts you in touch with other professionals, provides opportunities for you to post your writing, and helps you keep up with trends in your field. Most important, it gives you credibility as a writer.
- Set up an appointment with a professional photographer for a head shot that you can use online.
- Subscribe to a magazine for writers, or stop by the library every couple of weeks to read one of their magazines.
- Build connections to other writers. Be generous about sharing what you know. If a friend publishes a book, post a review on Amazon.com.
My advice is to pick one resolution, get it under your belt, and then select another one. Keep pushing ahead and growing. You’ll have an exciting time, and your new skills will amaze you.
Best wishes for success and happiness in 2019!