Monday, 11 January 2016

Week Twenty-Nine: Five Resolutions For Writers

So we're well into 2016, and most of us will have turned our eyes away from the holidays and towards our writing schedule for this year by now.

These are not so much resolutions for me personally as they are thoughts and ambitions for writing and writers in general. I put them together to remind myself of the priorities we face as writers, and also to stop me from slouching.

RESOLUTION ONE: Know Your Destination

We too often start projects in a rush of enthusiasm without any clear indication of where they will end up. This can be an exciting and provocative choice; it can also lead us down blind alleys in creative terms. Some projects do not have the legs, or some fatal flaw lurks at their heart, and we know the market simply isn't there for such an idea, or not as told in those terms. We are writers, yes, which means we should work from our creative hearts, not to someone else's brief. But that is not carte blanche to write any old nonsense that excites us for five minutes but can't be sustained over the life of a novel.

Novels are long-haul jobs, they are hard work. Make sure you know your destination, or at least have some end point mapped out, before you set off through chapter one.

Can't wait to get home and start my new novel. Not sure what it will be about, but I have the perfect opening ...

RESOLUTION TWO: Finish What You Start

This is similar to Resolution One, except that was about knowing your destination - this is about actually reaching it. If you don't finish your writing projects, if you abandon them partway through because they turned out to be blind alleys (see above), you are teaching yourself to fail.

Don't teach yourself to fail. If it sucks, why did you start it in the first place? (Again, see above.) But okay, now that you know it sucks, finish it anyway. That way, you can at least try to fix it afterwards. You can't fix an unfinished novel, because a novel is a whole entity and its success depends on that sense of balance, on that wholeness.

An unfinished novel is like a bucket with no bottom, or a half-built house. No good to anyone.

RESOLUTION THREE: Keep Re-Examining Your Vision

Writers change and so do their visions. Make sure you are not hanging onto some outdated version of the world in which you are one kind of writer, when actually you have become someone quite different.

Sometimes people ask you to do something that sounds impressive or difficult - maybe they're offering to pay you handsomely, or to write something outside your comfort zone - and that doesn't fit your vision of yourself as a writer. So you turn them down.

Who are you kidding? Maybe once upon a time staying true to your vision was a noble idea. But we're in a global recession and someone has offered you work. So maybe it doesn't fit that lofty vision you had when you started out - you know, the one where you accepted the Booker Prize, and people shook your hand in the street, or tweeted that your novel saved their lives.

Visions like that are a distraction to the real job of being a writer. You have a bank balance. If you can't do the work they're offering, for whatever reason, fine, turn them down. But if it's just because you're not that kind of writer, get over yourself. We're all that kind of writer. Some of us are just pretending otherwise.

I, oh I, wrestling with creation, the word, the writtenness of it all, oh ...

RESOLUTION FOUR: Write As Often As You Can

Everyone says this, and that's because it's important. Maybe you have a demanding day job, maybe you have writer's block, maybe you're sick, maybe whatever. You should still try hard to write little and often. Because the ability to write is like a muscle - you can lose it if you don't exercise it.

I hate writing exercises, personally. I never do them. But if I'm 'between novels' and still want to write, I do the novelist's equivalent to doodling. I get out a notebook or grab a scrap of paper, an old envelope, whatever, and sketch out a plot. Characters. Timelines. Quotes in my head. Snippets of dialogue. And sometimes those ideas grow into stories, into novels, into a series.

Every novel begins with a single word. So write it. Then another one. Then another one.

Have you read a book recently? A book that excited you and made you want to put pen to paper yourself?

RESOLUTION FIVE: Keep Reading, Keep Being Influenced

Once you're a reasonably successful novelist, the very thing that got you there in the first place - i.e. reading and books etc. - is ironically the thing you don't have time to do. Now you have deadlines and proofs and edits and synopses and actual novels to write, and no space for reading stories by other people. Sometimes you don't even have the inclination to do it either. Maybe you are frightened a new important novel will 'pollute' your vision (see Resolution Three), or that you might feel beaten-down by a rival's success, or the force of their language, or their seemingly endless army of fans.

But influence can be a powerful tool. Professional jealousy can open your head up like a tin can and remind you of the wonders inside it. And if you can't face reading your peers in a certain genre, then read other genres or engage with stories via another medium, like film or television, or even art.

The story is what matters. Keep opening yourself up to story and to character, and you will keep replenishing your bucket. (You know, the one without the hole in it. The one you dip into the well each day before you begin to write.)

Good luck!


  1. This blog has given me just the shove I needed. I have started a novel. but I am a bit stuck on it. will make a plan and another resolution to finish it.

  2. Excellent! Thanks for sharing that, Linda, and GOOD LUCK! Jx

  3. Excellent. Shall take heed and note and get writing again.


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