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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

What Writers Can Learn from Failed New Year’s Resolutions


resolutions writer's blockHow’s that New Year’s Resolution working for you? Or did you, like me, resolve to not make resolutions? Either way, you can increase your chances of writing success by examining why resolutions often fail.

Failure: Fuzzy Resolutions

Most New Year’s Resolutions are vague. “I’ll write more.” “I’ll eat better and get fit.” “I’ll travel to new places.”

What does writing more look like? How much more is enough? What does it mean to eat better? How will you get fit? Where are you going?

The Saboteur loves fuzzy goals; no matter what you do, the Saboteur can always say it wasn’t enough or wasn’t the right thing. You can’t win, so before long, you stop trying.

Solution: Be Specific

Write clear, specific commitments. The more specific you are, the more real and realistic the goal becomes. You get a better sense in advance of what’s possible. You know when you’re doing what you said you’d do. And when you aren’t, you know what to do to get back on track.

“I’ll write for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week.” “I’ll eat 5 fruits or vegetables a day.” “I’ll go to the Y and workout for an hour every day.” “I’ll go to Paris in June.”

Failure: Fluffy, Over-inflated Resolutions

While “I’ll go to the Y and workout for an hour every day” has the advantage of being more specific than “I’ll get fit,” it’s too demanding for most people.

Most New Year’s Resolutions are too ambitious. “I’ll write a novel, find an agent, get published and hit the best-seller list this year.” “I’ll go to Europe: UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Austria. And wouldn’t it be great to organize a flash mob of Americans singing Do-re-mi at that fountain in The Sound of Music.”

After the flush of pride and satisfaction of declaring this year is the year you’ll fulfill all your dreams, disillusion and doubt quickly suck the life and hope out of over-inflated resolutions.

Even if you can force yourself to show up, it’s difficult to figure out where to start to achieve the near-impossible.

small steps writer's block canstockphoto24086030 (2)Solution: Keep Commitments Small

Small commitments can be repeated often. Small, regularly repeated commitments become habits and build your momentum. Small commitments won’t intimidate or overwhelm you, so you can keep showing up.

It’s easier to find smaller bites of time than big chunks of uninterrupted time. You’re more likely to frequently succeed with a small regular commitment and this reduces the risk of disappointment. (more brain-based reasons to make small commitments)

Failure: Floaty Resolutions

Because most New Year’s Resolutions are vague and over-ambitious, they lack a clear sense of direction. They float aimlessly like an abandoned balloon until they slowly deflate and get lost.

“Maybe I’ll write in the mornings. Or would it be better in the evening?” “I guess I could try a yoga class. Or Zumba. Or start swimming.” “I wonder what time of year is best to go to Yosemite.”

If you don’t know where you want to go and you don’t really believe you’ll get there anyway, it’s impossible to decide what to do first or even what to do at all.

Solution: Create an Action Map

action map 3An Action Map helps you identify the small, specific actions you need to take to achieve a goal. It gives you choices and options, which keep creative people engaged and enthusiastic. But not too many choices, which can paralyze you.

The Action Map allows you to jump right in before your fears get the best of you. It gives you direction and focus. The map shows you how small, repeated commitments can take you, step-by-step, to the results you want.

New Year’s Resolutions never worked for me. So I stopped making them and started making commitments, which do work.

If you made a writing-related New Year’s Resolution, please share it and what you’re doing to make it work for you.

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