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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.

Why Publishing My Novel Is Not a New Year’s Resolution


Publishing my novel REALLY matters to me. So the last thing I want to do is make that a New Year’s Resolution.

Roughly 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail within a couple of months. Note the word order in that sentence – it’s resolutions that fail, not people. Here’s why.

New Year’s Resolutions are typically over-ambitious and therefore run counter to brain science. I have an ambitious goal, but I avoid freaking out about how intimidating it is by staying focused on small, regular action steps. I celebrate small successes along the way, which keeps my brain (specifically my habenula) functioning in ways that support creativity.

More New Year’s Resolutions are made from a sense of obligation (“Well, it’s the New Year, I guess I should make a resolution about my writing…”) than from conviction. Other people’s  resolutions may have inspired you in the moment, but that shared sense of “Let’s do this!” fades quickly.

Doing something because you “should” is rarely sustainable. Doing something because it’s your heart’s desire will keep you motivated longer. Doing something from habit, because it’s just who you are and what you do, will stay with you forever. A resolution isn’t going to get my novel published; my habits will.

New Year’s Resolutions are outcome goals and therefore run counter to brain science. Resolutions are usually vague hopes for a better outcome– lose weight, spend more time with family, save money — without considering what strategies, systems and steps will be needed to get there.

Focusing on an outcome without specific plans to achieve it reminds us of when we’ve tried something similar and failed. The prospect of failure triggers the lateral habenula to slam the brakes on motivation.

I don’t set myself up to fail by over-focusing on the outcome. I don’t define success in terms of outcomes I can’t control (how any given agent responds). I commit to take small, regular action steps (write drafts of query letter, get feedback and polish the query, research agents, send agents what they ask for, etc.). When I show up and do what I committed to do, I’ve succeeded.

My habits and commitments are the foundation of a sustainable writing practice. I don’t need resolutions.

You don’t either. If you already made a writing-related resolution, figure out how you can translate that into small steps you can take as you build sustainable writing habits.

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4 Comments on “Why Publishing My Novel Is Not a New Year’s Resolution”

  1. Joel D Canfield January 11, 2018 at 2:35 pm #

    I’ve never done New Year’s resolutions. I aim for change when I need it, though we do have a year-end postmortem and spend a couple weeks planning for the year, setting goals and whatnot.

    Best Beloved and I were just talking about this over breakfast. Her to-do list has about 20 items, mine has 2. But mine really should be 20 because I keep writing high-level stuff instead of granular bite-sized bits. Planning to learn from her.

    Like

    • rosannebane January 11, 2018 at 3:29 pm #

      Thanks Joel. I too reflect on the year past and make plans/goals/dreams (those are three separate categories) for the coming year.

      Like

  2. Claudia Bruber January 11, 2018 at 2:12 pm #

    Test 3

    Like

  3. Claudia Bruber January 11, 2018 at 2:12 pm #

    Testing comment function

    Like

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