Did you know that as many as 40% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions, but fewer than 8% will actually succeed? While it doesn’t figure in the Top 10 most common resolutions, one of the resolutions I tend to hear from people I meet is “I’m going to get my book written this year!” If this one’s on your list, here are five tips to help you beat the odds and be one of the few who actually succeed in following through.
1. Be Realistic
Many people fail because the goals they set themselves are not realistic or achievable. If you’re a first-time author, for example, don’t set yourself up for failure by declaring that you’re going to write your book in the first month of the year. While that may not be impossible (I’ve written books in as little as six weeks), it’s not the best approach for someone who’s never written a book before. Think about what you can reasonably achieve in the time you have available. For example, you might decide to draft one chapter per week, or two per month. Give yourself time to do the best work you can—too much self-imposed pressure can end up stifling your creativity.
If you do need to work intensively (perhaps you have a publication deadline to meet, or you have a limited amount of time set aside to focus on your writing), consider scheduling a writing retreat to give yourself the best chance at success (see my series Planning Your Writing Retreat for advice on how to do this).
2. Give Something Up
Writing a book is a big commitment. If you’re going to make space for it in your life, chances are you’ll need to stop doing something else. Think seriously about what you’re willing to not do in order to get your book done. Talk to the important people in your life about how they may be able to support you by temporarily picking up responsibilities you need to set aside for the time you’re working on your book. Making a conscious decision about what you’re going to not do is a critical step toward your success. Not only will it free up time and mental bandwidth, but it also makes your commitment more tangible—in your own mind and for those around you.
3. Don’t Try To Go It Alone
Unless you’re a very experienced writer and accustomed to working on large, long-term projects, you’ll most likely need support from someone who can keep you on track, hold you accountable, give you feedback, think through the tricky parts with you, and help you organize your time. This could be a friend or “writing buddy”—perhaps you know someone who is also working on a book project and would be happy to team up with you for mutual support. It could be your spouse or partner (but make sure he or she is comfortable being in this role and you feel comfortable taking his or her feedback—sometimes we’re more easily able to listen to someone we’re not living with every day!). If you have the resources, you might also consider hiring a writing coach.
I often hear prospective authors express hesitation about getting someone else involved so early in the process. “I’ll write the first draft and then get an editor—I don’t want someone editing as I go along,” is a common objection. And I agree—having someone editing your work as you write it can be distracting and is rarely conducive to staying in the “creative flow.” However, a coach can serve a different function—helping you to structure your time, giving encouraging and constructive feedback, and acting as a thinking partner as you wrestle with your ideas (read more about Coaching.) You’ll still need an editor once your draft is done, but working with a coach can help to ensure that your manuscript is in pretty good shape by the time it gets to this stage. Whoever you choose to be your partner in this process, make sure he or she is aligned with your vision and goals for the book, and understands the audience you are writing for.
4. Expect Setbacks—and Adapt
Another common reason people fail to follow through on resolutions is because they hit a major setback. For example, you might resolve to get in better shape and start working out, but then after a few weeks you injure yourself and are unable to keep up your fitness routine. It’s all too easy at that moment to throw in the towel altogether. The same happens with writing. Perhaps you’ve resolved to spend two hours a day on your book, but then one of your kids gets sick and suddenly your uninterrupted creative time is filled with demands from a cranky son or daughter. Or maybe unexpected financial issues will force you to spend more time at work, leaving you too tired to write every day as well. Whatever the setback is, chances are there will be at least one. The important thing to remember in these moments is to consciously adapt your goals around your new circumstances, rather than just abandoning them. Work with your partner, writing buddy, or coach to set new, realistic targets that you can meet. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have to scale back your expectations—the important thing is that you keep making progress.
5. Reward Yourself
With a large, complex project like a book, it’s easy to feel like you’re never going to make it to the end. Structuring your time so that you have many small milestones can help you to see the progress you’re making, even if the end is many months away. When you reach a milestone (which could be a certain number of words, or completing a chapter or a section), reward yourself by taking a day off and doing something you love. Celebrate your small successes with your partner, writing buddy, or coach, and before you know it, you’ll be celebrating the completion of your book!
Happy New Year, and here’s to your successful writing endeavors!