Is Your New Year’s Resolution Killing Your Writing?
By Jacob Krueger
The idea of a New Year’s resolution is a beautiful one for writers—a New Year, with a new start, and a new commitment to the things that really matter to you. Set your resolutions in the right way, and they can have a permanent transformative effect, not just on your writing, but also on your life.
Unfortunately, not all resolutions are created equal. And while some can provide a source of inspiration and achievement, others can have the exact opposite effect, unintentionally reinforcing your weaknesses as a writer, rather than your strengths, and doing more to interfere with your success than they do to support it.
A recent University of Scranton study suggests that only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually succeed in keeping them. That’s a staggering number, with some pretty serious implications.
Is it really possible that 92% of people lack the inherent willpower to achieve the things that are most important to them in life, even after they’ve publically resolved to do them? Or are they simply doing something wrong in the way they set their goals in the first place.
And how can you, as a writer, set your own resolutions in a way that you know you will achieve them.
The Pebbles of Change
Change is hard. And not just for writers. To achieve it, we have to overcome our own inertia, fears and habits, change the status quo of our lives, and shake up our expectations not only for ourselves, but also for the people around us.
When people think about change, they usually think about big changes, not about small ones. Losing 100 pounds instead of eating more vegetables. Winning the lottery, rather than asking for a raise. Finishing the script, rather than writing the first page.
The problem is, with those big goals come big fears, and huge amounts of inertia. It’s a lot easier to get a pebble rolling than it is a boulder. And pebbles tend to leave a lot less destruction in their wake.
Big changes also take big preparation. Try to run a marathon after spending a year sitting on the couch, and the chances are you’re going to find yourself gasping for air on the side of the road, feeling like a failure, and never wanting to exercise again. “Well, I tried,” you’ll tell yourself. But the truth is, you never gave yourself a chance. You set a goal you couldn’t possibly achieve, and then took it as confirmation that change was impossible.
Imagine if you’d just gone for a short jog instead. Or even just a walk around the block.
When you set a tiny little goal you know you can achieve, you set yourself up for success, rather than failure. You roll the pebble of change, rather than the boulder. And with each little pebble you roll, the big change gets easier and easier.
The walk around the block soon turns into the short jog and before you know it, you’re not even breaking a sweat. Soon you’re running a mile, two miles, a whole marathon, and feeling like a million bucks the whole time—succeeding not just at the end of your journey, but at each step along the way.
Overflowing The River
If you’ve ever been to the desert during a rain storm, you know what happens when big change happens all at once: a sudden downpour quickly overflows the dried out riverbeds, sending flashfloods raging out of control, destroying everything in their path, and then disappearing just as quickly into the sand.
But start a small trickle into the tiniest rivulet, and before long, you’ll have a mighty river.
As writers, so many of us end up overflowing our own riverbeds, putting all of the focus into making it rain, and none into making the riverbed. We pursue our resolutions with the frantic chaos of a flash flood, only to be surprised when all that inspiration suddenly dries up and disappears.
It’s nice to dream of winning the lottery, finishing the big script, getting the big sale or accepting that Academy Award. But if those are the only goals you’ve got, you’re not likely to achieve them.
Even the rare few who actually achieve overnight success rarely hold onto it. Nearly half of all lottery winners have lost every penny within 5 years. And countless talented screenwriters have made that first sale, only to find themselves back at their day jobs a few years later, having never built the experience necessary to turn that first success into a career.
So as you set your goals this year, it’s fine to think about where you want to go, but put your real focus on how you’re going to get there—building the river bed, rather than trying so darn hard to make it rain. Think about each small, achievable step you’ll need to take in order to reach the place you’re going. Writing the first page. Enrolling in a class. Seeking out a mentor. Even just scrawling some ideas into your journal. Set a little for each day, achieve those goals, and celebrate your success as if you’d just won the lottery.
And one day not long from now, you’ll wake up to realize that little stream has turned into a powerful river, looking back at who you used to be, and who you are, and wondering how such a big change could happen so quickly, without you even realizing you were making it.