Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How to Make New Year’s Resolutions You Will Actually Keep

It’s that time of year again. As the new year approaches, we begin to think ahead to what it may have in store for us and what we want to accomplish for ourselves. The television is flooded with commercials for dieting products, nicotine patches, and storage crates. The air is buzzing and hope begins to balloon in your chest. Even though January 1st is just another day, we have given it social and psychological meaning, and it marks an almost-tangible transition. You have goals, resolutions, and you will keep them.

new yearAnd then the magic dissipates, the champagne goes flat, mid-January or early February hits, and you suddenly do not care about those resolutions. And even if you do care, you convince yourself that you do not have the time, energy, or resolve to stay committed. Is this just the hectic reality of life? Maybe. But it may also be that you simply did not set the right kind of resolutions.

If you want to make new year’s resolutions that you truly will keep, follow the steps below. I’m using these with my own resolutions, and they have proven to work for me in years past.

Step One: Dream BIG

The dawn of a new year is the perfect symbolic time for refocusing on your dreams. However, most people stop at this step. They say to themselves, “I will be healthy this year.” That’s a great dream! But if that is the resolution you use to represent that dream, you aren’t going to get very far in achieving it.

Step Two: Get Specific

Okay, so you want to “be healthy.” Awesome! Now, what does that mean for you? There are several kinds of health: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, psychological, financial, etc. Whatever your resolution is, make sure you know exactly what it is you plan to accomplish. Without a clear picture of what your dream looks like, you won’t be able to make it a reality.

Step Three: Get Real

Let’s say your dream is to “get rich.” Okay, fine. And you specify that to be “make one million dollars.” That’s all good and well, but is that goal actually realistic for your current and projected situations over the next twelve months? Chances are, it’s not. A few more realistic ways to work toward your dream of riches would be to receive a raise, find a higher paying job, invest, or create multiple streams of income. While it may take you longer to reach your dream, I guarantee this approach of small realistic goals over big unrealistic goals will help you stay motivated and get you much farther in the long run.

Step Four: Get Quantifiable

So, you have your dream and your specific goal, and you’ve made sure they are realistic. Great. Now it is time to make your goal(s) measurable. Going back to the “be healthy” example, let’s say you decide that means to have better nutrition. Lovely. Make that into one or two even more specific goals that you can quantify. These could be: eat one serving of vegetables every day at lunch, only eat one serving of junk food per day, or drink less than five sodas a week. The choice is yours, of course, but make sure that you can track your successes and failures clearly and without negotiation.

Step Five: Get Tough

But not too tough. If you set a goal for yourself that is too easy or too difficult, you are bound to fail. For example, I drink maybe one soda a month. Tops. So, if my healthy resolution was to cut out soda altogether, that is a healthy decision, but it would not be difficult for me at all. However, I LOVE chocolate, so if my goal was to cut out chocolate completely, I would fail within a week. There has to be a balance. If your goal is not challenging, you are deceiving yourself into believing you are moving farther than you are. Likewise, if your goal is too challenging, you will never reach it and feel like a failure.

Step Six: Get Honest

Selecting your new year’s resolution(s) is a deeply personal decision. However, so many people choose their resolutions based on what others do. Is this a product of social groupthink, social pressure, or just a lack of creativity? No matter which way, make sure you are only taking on resolutions that you actually want to try and that you truly believe will benefit you. Don’t feel like losing 10 pounds? Don’t resolve to lose weight. Don’t want to record every second of your life? Don’t resolve to keep a journal. It’s that simple.

In the end, the keys to making new year’s resolutions you will actually keep are these: know yourself, your situation, and your dreams. Be smart, be logical, and be entirely honest.

And remember: the only judge and the only victor is you.


What are your new year’s resolutions? What factors do you consider when choosing your goals? Share your advice below!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo Prep: Finding Motivation

In episode #198 of The Creative Penn Podcast, Steve Scott, a self-published author who earns a six-figure income from his writing, gives his advice for being productive and successful. His number one tip?

“Consistent butt in chair at least 5 times a week.”

procrastinationIt is no secret. The magic way to produce writing is to sit down and physically write. However, as all writers know, sometimes this is much easier said than done. After all, when our day jobs and families and friends and fully-loaded DVRs come calling, it’s difficult to turn them away. Given the opportunity, many writers will exercise their imaginations to invent any story necessary to get out of doing their work. Unfortunately, I am no exception to this weakness.

This November, I will have to beat myself at my own game and figure out how to get to “butt in chair” long enough to crank out 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month. As part of my NaNo prep, I’ve evaluated my strengths and weaknesses and concocted a few different brands of kryptonite to help break down my inner-procrastinator.

By finding honest answers to the following questions, you can do the same.

What is your biggest motivator?

Without a doubt, my strongest motivator is my knight-like sensitivity to obligation. I like to believe that this stems from my parents, who raised me to be loyal and honest and keep my promises. But, whoever or whatever is to blame, when I feel connected to something or someone, I go to insane lengths to hold myself to that commitment. I can’t even stop writing in the journal that I’ve wanted to abandon since April, simply because I feel obligated to finish 2014. Yeah, I’m crazy. Hopefully, it comes in handy.

knightHow can you create that motivator for yourself?

This question may be tricky for some, but for me, it’s simple. I am telling anyone and everyone who will listen that I am doing NaNoWriMo. I’ve announced it on this website, on every form of social media, and face-to-face with my family and friends. By telling so many people about my goal, I will feel obligated to succeed. Additionally, one of my other complexes is that I abhor looking stupid, and if I talk a big game and don’t deliver 50,000 words, I’m going to feel pretty damn stupid.

Who can help you?

No matter who you are or where you live, you can find a support system to help you achieve your goals. For me, I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful husband, Daniel, who has agreed to be my word count tyrant. Even tonight, when I was tired and did not want to write this blog post, he yanked my cell phone out of my hand and ushered me upstairs to write. He has also agreed to give up our office and desktop for the entire month so I can have a free work space. I’m also lucky to have close writer friends, Teresa and Sam, who understand the undertaking that is NaNoWriMo and will cheer me on this month. I’ve also been able to meet more writing buddies simply by doing a few searches on WordPress and Twitter. As the Aussies say, too easy.

Where is your sacred space in your home and day?desk

So many writers talk about having a special place to write or about carving out a specific time of day for writing. I intend to do both this November. As already stated, my husband is giving me free reign of the study and computer, so that I have no physical excuses not to write. Time is a little more tricky, given that I work a full time job from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (including commuting time), and I sometimes do take-home work in the evenings and on weekends. Most writers say that writing in the morning works best for them, as they can get their writing done first thing and then tackle the day worry-free. I am an ogre in the mornings, but I may have to give this a shot. However, so far, I’ve been able to devote at least an hour every night to writing for this blog, so I can probably do a bit of both and make it work.

How can you practice your skills and build confidence?

By this, I mean, how can you take on a smaller venture to prove to yourself you can complete your goal? For instance, my goal is to write 1,666 words a day for all of November. Well, for the last week, I’ve been writing roughly 800 to 1,000 words every night for these blog posts. While nonfiction flows faster from my mind to my fingers than fiction does, surely if I can write this much for a blog post every night, I can slam out some prose. Think about your own goals and see if you can do any “test runs” to build your confidence.

finish lineHow will you reward yourself?

If all else fails, humans are animals, and we love pleasure. What can you give yourself as a reward that will motivate you to complete your goal? And better yet, who can safeguard your reward to ensure you don’t cave and just treat yourself early? For me, a huge motivator is that I will be able to cross off my #1 bucket list item and feel less like an amateur when I talk to people. However, for a physical reward, I am going to treat myself to Scrivener (I’m using the free trial during NaNoWriMo) and buy myself some new, professional clothes. My husband will be monitoring me all month and ensuring that I do not let the credit card slip until I reach my word count.

How can you remind yourself of all this?

Some writers surround themselves with motivational quotes or images; some have a daily creed they say to themselves. While I do love quotes, the way I am reminding myself of my commitments is by writing these posts, right now, on this website. These words are my motivation, straight from the source, my purest form of obligation to commit myself to this goal and not look back. Plus, surrounding myself with awesome writer friends and a relentlessly supportive hubby helps, too. Even if I forget, they won’t let me hear the end of it.

 

To follow my NaNoWriMo journey or add me as a writing buddy, check out my NaNoWriMo profile.


What are your answers to these questions? How are you motivating yourself to win NaNoWriMo or achieve other big goals? I’d love to read your tips!

Musings & Bookish Things, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Should You Study Creative Writing?

Deciding whether or not to mix passion with academia is tough. Do you study what you love and risk joblessness at the end? Or, do you submit yourself to a “practical” degree and risk a passionless career life?

Find_your_voice._express_yourself._creative_writing.This is where I am at right now with my Masters degree. Do I need a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing? Or is my Bachelors enough? Well, unfortunately, I have yet to find a blog post filled with advice for myself. But, I thought, maybe I can share my experience with my Bachelors degree and help someone else make a similar decision.

I went for passion and majored in Creative Writing, Literature, and Sociology. For those of you still making the decision, let me offer my best, non-professional advice.

There are two elements to any academic and/or career path: passion and practicality. Before determining any major, you need to determine if you have one, both, or neither of these elements in your potential field.

Passion

  1. Do you feel an ardent desire to write?
  2. Does writing make you feel satisfied and bring you joy?
  3. Have you been writing for several years (long enough to know your passion is enduring)?

Practicality

  1. Have you been writing for several years (long enough to know you can commit to it)?
  2. Have other people (preferably outside of family and friends) told you you are a talented writer?
  3. Do your career goals require an education in writing (ie: publisher, editor, writer, professor)?
  4. Are you willing and able to give and receive criticism and rejection in a calm and respectful manner?
  5. Are you willing and able to handle the “business side” of your writing career (ie: marketing, branding, public relations)?

If you answered “YES” to every question, I believe you should pursue creative writing in academia as a springboard to your career. If you only answered “YES” to some questions, you may rethink your commitment to creative writing. Do a bit more research and try to gain some more experience. Maybe start out with just a minor to see how you like the more “professional” side of creative writing. Worst case scenario, writing can always be a beloved hobby until you are ready to pursue it professionally or academically. It’s never too late to change paths.

Obviously, these questions are not the ultimate test of your readiness/willingness to pursue a degree in creative writing, but each one speaks to a different component of university and professional writing, all of which you will need to eventually master to be successful in this field.

Creative_writing_class-fine_arts_center_(402690951)Now, if you are like me, taking a short quiz is not enough. You want the “inside scoop” from people who have been in a creative writing program. Well, here are a few pros and cons I found during my university writing career. This list is by no means exhaustive, and only speaks to my experience, which was at a small, private, liberal arts university. However, it’s a good place to get your feet wet.

Pros

Professors’ Guidance — Having a published author on-hand to guide, read, and critique your work is an extremely helpful learning element that you are unlikely to get outside of a university setting.

Multiple Genres — Unless your program is super-specialized (which is unlikely at the undergraduate level), you will get to experiment in a wide range of genres, some of which you may not even realized existed (like me with creative nonfiction!).

Workshops — Your work will be read and critiqued by others in your field who are (usually) near your experience level. Plus, you get to do the same with their work, which will grow your editing and revision skills as well as help you find your own voice.

Consistent Deadlines — Completing diverse and regular assignments helps you to diversify your writing style and make routine writing a habit.

Extra Opportunities — Many universities also have extracurricular opportunities for writers, such as Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society, a literary magazine to write for and edit, and other clubs. These can help you network and become a more well-rounded writer.

7658051014_64f5e2cf11_hCons

Professors’ Influences — While a professor is one of the biggest advantages you gain from studying creative writing, some professors can actually harm your writing. Some professors may limit your subject matter, try to morph your writing style, or simply be bad at teaching certain genres or skills.

Favoritism — Some professors practice it intentionally, some do so unintentionally. Obviously, if you are not a favorite, you risk having your work ignored or neglected. On the other hand, if you are a favorite, you could still be disadvantaged. Your work may be too highly praised, causing you to miss out on vital criticism and learning. Alternatively, your work may be too harshly criticized, in attempts to make you even better, which may lead to you losing your zest for writing or just not getting the right kind of criticism to help you improve.

Workshops — Some workshops are filled with people whose experience level is so different from yours that they simply cannot offer the criticism and advice you need for your stage of writing experience. Others are filled with sharks, who want nothing more than to tear you down to make themselves look better.

Dependency — Studying creative writing comes with a lot of benefits. After graduation, these benefits go away. If your writing success has relied on praise from your professor/classmates, class prompts, and/or consistent class deadlines, it may be hard to self-motivate once those tools are gone.

Cost — Point blank: university is expensive. There are cheaper alternatives to enhancing writing skills, such as local writing groups, online forums, and writing coaches.

In the end, you are the only one who can decide if studying creative writing is right for you. Do your research: read other blogs, take campus tours, email professors and students. Studying creative writing was the right move for me, but everyone is different. Regardless, don’t worry. As I always say, You’ve got this!


What advice would you give to writers thinking about entering academia? How does your own university creative writing experience stack up against my pros and cons? Let me know!