Some people think pleasure is peripheral to the writing process, something nice to have but not essential. We profoundly disagree. In our work with writers of all kinds – from professors and business gurus to novelists and creatives – we’ve found that it’s the people who enjoy the process of writing (or dislike it the least) who are also the most guilt-free, confident, relaxed – and productive. That’s why we believe that ‘enjoyment’ should be the thing you aim for when setting your New Year writing resolution.
‘Enjoyment’ is an odd word when you apply it to writing. You’ll never ‘enjoy’ writing in the same way you enjoy a New Year’s Eve party but it can bring you a deep sense of satisfaction, flow and fulfilment when it goes well.
But gaining enjoyment from writing involves work and being aware of what is likely to make you unhappy and cause guilt, anxiety and self-doubt. And it all starts with being realistic about your life.
Step 1. In the New Year, be brutally honest about what you can achieve given your life as it is (not how you’d like it to be)
Guilt and unhappiness come when writers set unrealistic targets to hit which result in disappointment and frustration when they’re not met.
Being realistic about the time you can spare, the energy you have and the other competing priorities in your life might sound a little dry – especially as you ponder which exciting New Year’s writing resolution to plump for.
However, being realistic about what you can fit into your life is an essential part of ensuring that writing doesn’t become an overwhelming chore which impacts other areas of your life.
>> Read more: How to set a writing goal: the ultimate guide
It’s human nature to believe things will improve later down the line – that you’ll have more time to write, feel more energised or be more inspired. It’s also deeply human to want to do more and achieve more.
Just because you want to be the kind of person who can write productively and without procrastination for hours on end in uninterrupted bliss (n.b. these people don’t actually exist) doesn’t mean you are.
That’s why you need to go to…
Step 2. Base predictions about what you can achieve next year on evidence and data – not assumption
When setting your New Year writing resolution, it’s good to push yourself and to be optimistic about the future. But be careful! Setting the bar too high can result in overwhelm and inaction.
Writers often hold themselves up to unrealistic, self-imposed standards and then beat themselves up for not being able to reach them – and this causes anxiety and dissatisfaction.
“Guilt and unhappiness come when writers set unrealistic targets to hit which result in disappointment and frustration when they’re not met.”
Instead of making predictions based on what you feel you should be able to achieve, base them on what you have achieved in the past or what competing priorities you actually have in your life. In other words, base your predictions on evidence and data.
Generating the data is simpler than it might sound. Instead of hoping and believing that you can reach your goal, think back and think forward to develop a simple plan.
Develop a plan
- THINK BACK > Have I completed similar projects before? How did I do it? What internal and external obstacles got in my way? How much time did I really need?
- THINK FORWARD > What kind of internal and external obstacles might get in the way in the future? When and where might these obstacles arise? How much time might I need this time?
- TAKE ACTION > What will I do to move round any obstacles? Is the amount of time I’ve given myself realistic taking into account the other priorities in my life?
As you start on your project you’ll generate data. This will be really helpful if you’re tackling a very new or different project or if you’re doing something for the first time. It will help counter unrealistic expectations and overly rosy projections by giving you solid evidence of your progress. Here’s how.
After every writing session ask yourself three simple questions:
- What went well?
- What didn’t go so well?
- What will I change for next time?
The more you ask yourself these questions the more you’ll see patterns in your behaviour appear and understand whether the goals you set yourself are realistic and achievable given everything else going on in your life.
Step 3. Accept your limitations and lower the stakes
Writing can feel foreboding; a scary prospect. It can lead to us judging ourselves harshly, with self-blame and more guilt.
But you only judge yourself because you’ve set unrealistically high standards to reach. You’ve told yourself your writing should be better, that you should be writing for longer, that you should be further ahead.
In other words, you’ve set the bar too high. Now it’s time to lower the stakes.
Write fewer words, for less time
It’s far better for your well-being, happiness and long-term writing productivity to successfully produce regular small amounts of work or to write in small chunks of time rather than take on too much, feel overwhelmed and do nothing.
Write two paragraphs per day – then stop. Write in bursts of 25 minutes using a Pomodoro timer. Spend less time writing and more time outside clearing your head. Small amounts of daily writing add up over time and build the writing muscles needed for a sustained writing practice.
Reduce the pressure
Sometimes ‘doing the writing’ can be an intimidating, procrastination-inducing prospect. If your writing desk feels like an ominous place to be – work in a café or on the sofa.
“Instead of making predictions based on what you feel you should be able to achieve, base them on what you have achieved in the past or what competing priorities you actually have in your life. In other words, base your predictions on evidence and data.”
If you’ve been staring at a blank page for too long, try mind-mapping or drawing your idea with post-it notes and pens.
If writing feels frightening, try freewriting or splurging words onto the page – always remembering that what you’re writing is draft zero. You can always come back and edit later on. No pressure…
Happy New Year writing resolution
Remember – when you enjoy writing, you’re more likely to come back to it.
Your writing isn’t always going to be pleasurable. There will be peaks and troughs. But when you notice what obstacles get in the way, accept your life as it is and develop a realistic plan of action you’ll be better prepared, more relaxed and more likely to enjoy the process of writing – and that is what will keep you going this year and beyond.