Happy New Year!

Even if you don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, I think they’re a good idea for writers. It’s useful to take 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. (If these sound overwhelming, take heart. At the end of this post I’ll be encouraging you to choose only one.)

1.  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.

2.  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.

3.  Resolve to 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!

4.  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.

5.  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.

6.  Join a writing group. Your library may have information about local groups you can join. 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.

7.  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.

8.  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.

9.  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.

10.  Set up an appointment with a professional photographer for a head shot that you can use online.

11.  Subscribe to a magazine for writers, or stop by the library every couple of weeks to read one of their magazines.

12. 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 2020!


4 thoughts on “Happy New Year!

  1. Elizabeth Fike

    Happy New Year Jean! Thanks for the helpful tips over the past year. Sometimes I only read the quiz sentence, but even those have helped tremendously. When I have the time, I read the rest with great interest. Once I get started, I tend to catch up and read the other articles. My first inclination was to change today’s sentence to, “That’s your car, isn’t it?” Would that also be correct? Although it doesn’t sound as fluid, how about, “That car’s yours, isn’t it?” I honestly don’t mind if you point out ANY mistakes in this comment. Every little bit helps, and coming from you, I’m likely to remember it forever!
    I most often write on a gardening/rose forum. Thanks to you(.) (,) ? I have improved my writing skills a bit. Commas remain a bit of a challenge. I feel that I’m using them too frequently, creating run on sentences. Thank you for a year of great help! Lisa

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Lisa – Happy New Year, and it’s lovely to hear from you again!
    I think “That’s your car, isn’t it?” is absolutely fine. I chose to use yours because so many people aren’t sure whether an apostrophe is needed.
    Thanks so much for taking the time to write. It’s always a joy to hear that the quizzes and posts are helpful.
    I may have told you that my husband is the garden writer for a newspaper in Central Florida. I hope your roses and other plants are doing well. Gardening is wonderful! Great exercise, good for the environment, and a source of beauty and joy to so many of us. Jean

  3. Elizabeth Fike

    Hi Jean- I was not aware that your husband was a writer, nor a gardener, let alone a garden writer! For some reason, I’m not being informed when there’s another comment added. That’s wonderful! I’m sure gardening in FL has special challenges, as So CA gardening does. We likely struggle with opposite problems in the garden. He probably has to deal with fungal issues, but at least FL has an abundance of water available!
    Thanks for mentioning in today’s (tomorrow’s 1/3/20) article to not make fun of folks that make writing mistakes. That’s how people learn, and embarrassing someone who has made a mistake will likely stop them from writing again. No one wants that. Thanks again, Jean! Lisa

  4. ballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Lisa – gardening in Florida is wonderful because of the wide range of plants that grow here. But we do get freezes (and – twice since we moved here – snow!). Water is increasingly becoming a problem because of salt water intrusion, aggravated by global warming. And then there are pests and diseases. Charlie is a palm specialist, and some of his favorite palms are being hit by not one but two new-to-us diseases.
    I’ve never been to Southern California, but friends who live there say they absolutely love it – and I know from pictures that they have enchanting gardens.
    Glad you enjoyed the column! Jean

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