What a year it’s been for everyone! A near-apocalyptic state of affairs, and to think there was a time when we were just swapping articles about ‘that Wuhan virus’. I see a lot of content online about bidding good riddance to 2020, but I chose to take the kinder approach – be thankful for what the year has given me, and be excited about how I can make 2021 my own.
2020 was special for me on two counts. First, I met the love of my life, spent the lockdown with him and then married him in December. Secondly, I started writing fiction in earnest. The latter is something I was honestly unsure about – it would mean devoting most of my time and energy each day to becoming better at an art form that might never bring me success. And that daunted me. I won’t deny it. It scared the bejesus out of me to think that I might toil away at my writing for years and years and never make it in the literary world. But the truth is, I’ve always known that I would be a writer, and there was no better time than the enforced home-staying to do so. And thus the journey began, in May 2020, and it’s been crazy hard and worth every second of it.
It’s the first day of the new year, and I believe in the potential that clean slates hold. I have a brand-new planner at the ready, a bunch of story ideas waiting to be brought to fruition and a ton-load of motivation to write, write, write. And because I love having concrete goals to work towards, here are some of the things I want to focus on in 2021 as I continue on this wonderful new writing journey.
Preserve my incomplete drafts
I’m a perfectionist by nature, and I tend to ditch story drafts if I sense that they aren’t quite living up to their initial promise. However, I’d like to minimise that in 2021 for two reasons. First – a less-than-promising draft might reveal new ways of completing itself if I come back to it after a gap. Second – even if the draft itself isn’t that good, its concepts and/or characters might still be good enough to work into a new story. I’ve seen instances of both happen over the last few months, and I want to stop deleting and start preserving so that I have a bank of ideas to return to whenever I’m looking for something new.
Edit until my inner critic is satisfied
It’s often said that you can never edit a story enough, and thus you needn’t be too hung up about making it perfect. I agree, but with one caveat – you should edit your story until your inner critic says ‘yes’. And I don’t mean obvious edits like fixing plot holes or unnecessary adverbs. I mean – listen to that voice that says there’s something just short of okay about the opening line or about that piece of dialogue. Because that voice is telling you the truth – it needs rework, even if it means deleting all those lovely lines you spent so much time on. I had an awful time killing my darlings, and more than once I tried to talk myself out of editing it because it was pretty much okay and that was okay…right? It was not okay, as I found out the hard way, and now I’m willing to put in the extra effort and listen to my inner critic, until I know the story is ready. (And yes, you will always know when it’s really ready.)
Log regular hours
I used to be very mood-driven about my writing when I started out. If I felt like writing, I wrote; if I wanted to stop, I stopped. The problem with that is that sometimes I don’t feel like writing for more than five minutes, but if I just push myself past that feeling and keep going, I’m likely to get some solid work done. I use Toggl to track all my work projects every day, and the goal is to log at least 20 hours of fiction writing every week (in addition to my freelance projects, blogging and other important tasks). This will keep me accountable and keep me going even if I’m not necessarily feeling super-creative – as you might already know, it’s often necessary and sufficient just to get your words out on the page so that you have something to polish.
This might seem too obvious to mention, but I read shockingly few books in 2020 (there were extenuating circumstances, but even so) and I’d like to change that. The goal is to read 100 books, mostly classics and literary fiction from my to-read list. I’ll try to focus on writers whose style I admire and whom I’d like to learn from – I love Saul Bellow’s observational powers, for instance, and there are five books of his I want to read this year. Of course, I’ll keep the list flexible – there’s always new books you come across and end up loving.
Put my work out there
I want to get published. I am prepared to do anything it takes to get my stories published, and I flatter myself that my fiction isn’t quite so unremarkable that it doesn’t deserve to be shared with an audience. I already started sharing some of my work in late 2020 (hopefully I’ll have good news to share on that front soon!) and I’ll be doing a lot more of that, targeting both big-league journals and smaller publications. Of course there will be rejections – dozens of them. That’s part of the game. The key is to remember (and this is something I am still working on) that a rejection doesn’t have to mean that my story is bad. It just means the story wasn’t right for that particular issue of that particular magazine. Neil Gaiman once said to see a rejected story as a letter sent to the wrong address – you just need to find the right one! And while I do feel unhappy whenever a rejection email comes along (and there have been a good many of them already), it only spurs me on to keep sharing my work to more places until the acceptance email finally comes along.
Focus on mindful positivity
It’s no secret that writing is hard, and there are often times when I feel not only dejected, but absolutely miserable. I loathe myself for wanting to be a writer and consider looking for accounting jobs instead. And I’m not going to try and fix that with fake positivity where I go “Hey, at least I have two working hands and a working brain, life’s peachy!” That may work for some people, but it doesn’t work for me. What I will try and do instead (and this is very much a work-in-progress) is to remind myself that I chose this life after several years of not being able to, and that I chose it because this is who I am. And while it is extremely hard, I have it in me to keep pushing because this is home, and you fight to keep your home. Over time, I hope these affirmations will help to control the mood swings, even if they can’t be eliminated. At the very least, I hope the affirmations will help me push through the mood swings and continue to write, even if I don’t feel like it in the moment. Writing is like any other kind of task – you need to push it sometimes. And that’s how it should be. And that’s how many of the most memorable stories are born.
A very happy new year to everyone, and lots of luck with your own writing goals!