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Five writing resolutions for the new year

I’m not one for major resolutions, mostly because I never manage to, how do you say, accomplish them. And then I greet the end of the year with quiet resignation and wistful gazing into the distance. (I’m a lot of fun at New Year’s Eve parties.) Over the years, however, I’ve managed to whittle down my yearly goals, and I’ve found that starting small can yield big results. With that in mind, here are some resolutions I’ve come up with for the struggling writer. These might seem small, because they are. And that’s the point.

1. Write every day

Okay, this one seems big, but stay with me, here. It’s really not. You don’t have to write for hours, and you probably can’t, if your schedule is like most humans. Just work on doing it every day. Yes, even on weekends and holidays, and preferably at the same time. Think consistency, not quantity. Fifteen minutes a day is fine. Slow and steady, little tortoise.

2. Give yourself a break

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a parent. Even if you’re not a parent, I’d imagine you have some obligations in your life, and that these obligations often lead you to want to toss everything and move to a nice quiet ice floe, where no one can get at you. So occasionally you’re going to not be able to write for a day, or two, or even–gasp!–more. The most important thing to remember is that beating yourself up is entirely counterproductive. No one ever whipped a horse into becoming a champion. Be nice to yourself. And get back on track when you can.

3. Get quiet

Sometimes we’re so frantic with all our obligations that we immediately rush from finishing errands or a day’s work and jump into our daily writing, figuring we can get it over with in fifteen minutes, and then maybe start on dinner preparations or helping our kid with his math homework.

Stop. Before you start writing, set a timer for five minutes and just…sit. If you meditate, do that. If you’re one of those people (like me) for whom sitting can be torture, take a five minute walk or wash the dishes–but quietly. Don’t listen to a podcast or music, or make phone calls. Concentrate on each step, each breath, each dish.

And if you argue that you can’t sit for a few minutes because then you’ll instantly fall into an hour-long, drooly bed-head-causing nap, then guess what? You need to sleep. Which brings me to my next resolution for you:

4. Value sleep

Most of us are sleep-deprived–we don’t prioritize sleep because we’re idiots. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Getting enough sleep (or not) has been shown to affect our metabolisms, immune function, mood, life span, and creativity. In our defense, sleep deprivation makes you kind of stupid, so it’s easy to see how this happened. How much sleep is enough? That depends on the person. If you’re falling asleep any time you sit quietly, you’re sleep-deprived. Figure out how much sleep you need, and then make it your goal this year to get it, however you can.

5. Always bring a notebook

Your unconscious is a scamp, that one. It will pop a great idea into your head right when you’re in the produce aisle, fondling a cantaloupe. You’ll think, “Ooh, I have to remember that when I’m sitting down to write,” but by the time you get home the idea will be gone. You’ll sit down and wrack your brains but your unconscious will have tucked the idea away NEVER TO RETURN and then in despair you’ll whip up a batch of cookie dough and then maybe you’ll eat it all before it gets in the oven. Now you’re shaky and bloated and you’ll never get that idea back.

This is why you need a notebook.

You can find one that’s small enough to fit into a back pocket, and stick a miniature-golf pencil in there as well. Or just pick up something you can carry around in your bag. Any time anything floats into your head, you can jot it down. Get into this habit, and I swear, more ideas will start coming to you. I have no idea why this is so, but it is. You can also use your smartphone, but personally I find it more satisfying to have a physical record of all the ideas that have leapt into my head. Oh, and remember what I said about sleep? Keep your notebook by your bed. You never know what you’ll come up with at 3 am.

And there you go. Resolve to make even a couple of these changes in your life, and you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish in 2012. Happy new year!

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