No Excuses!

C-Horse1-2014ANo Excuses!

Okay, folks. The holidays were great, but now it's time to get serious. This is the year you're actually going to do it!

Do what? Well, that's up to you. Begin your novel, or finish it. Get that poetry or short story collection off the ground. Or just start writing regularly and keep up the habit. The important thing is, when 2015 rolls around, you'll be looking back on a year well spent, the time you actually kept those resolutions and achieved your goals.

Stop laughing. You'll hurt yourself.

All this is possible – at least I hope so. I've been moping around for weeks not getting much of anything done, with well-meaning people asking me how the next book is coming along, and then backing away uneasily as I burst into tears and crawl under the table to hide. But I intend to turn that around. It's a new year, and that's a time for resolutions.

gal fireworks-258Ah, resolutions. I usually scrawl mine on crumpled post-it notes and let them fester in a dark corner somewhere, hoping they'll disintegrate. It's saddening when I find them and realize that I've broken them all – and that they're identical to the ones I made and didn't keep the year before, and the ones I'm planning to make this New Year's Eve and break sometime around the 2nd of January. But it doesn't have to be that way. Several years ago I found myself in a Life Coaching class, and I remember setting goals was a big part of the overall message. Let's see what I can remember and how it applies to writing.

Be specific. Suppose your goal is 'write more'. Very worthy, but what does it actually mean? If you wrote five sentences in 2012 and six in 2013, this technically counts as more. Goals have to be measurable. How else will you know if you've achieved them?

Be realistic. Read my 'to-do' lists for the day and you might think you're dealing with a superhero. That's chinese-papercuts-happy-new-year-of-the-horse-2014-sam-martbecause they're largely fictional, and when I look at them I feel nothing but resentment towards the dope who set them down the night before. It's tempting to have ambitious goals. But their function should be to encourage and motivate you, not to make you feel lousy because you've set yourself targets that are unreachable. Start off slowly. Set aside twenty minutes in the morning or at night and see where that takes you. Maybe those twenty minutes will become an hour. Maybe those scribbled notes will become a novel.

Deadlines! Use them! If the project has no due date, then you're going to put it aside for something that does, even if it's a pile of ironing. Also, when you set your deadline, make sure you've got witnesses. Promises to yourself are easy to break, especially if nobody knows you've made them. And remember, even if you don't get it all finished by the deadline, you'll accomplish a lot more than when you were working towards something that had to be completed 'someday'.

Facing-Brick largeGet a writing buddy. When you're going swimming, it's good to have someone along to make sure you don't drown. The same applies here. Find a friend who's also working on a project. Check in for progress reports, encouragement, commiseration, advice – and be prepared to give back the same and more. Or if you really need it, get a nagging buddy. Be responsible to someone. If there were no consequences for missing a day at your paying job, you'd miss a lot more of them, right? So make sure that there are consequences for missing a day or six of writing, even if it's just mild embarrassment. (Extreme cases can always subscribe to my specially tailored nagging service, starting with cute reminder tweets and escalating to obnoxious phone calls, jeering and pointing on the streets, and bricks through windows, as the need arises. It's free!)

See? Not so very difficult. Now, here's why you're not going to do it.

I have no time!

Ahem. If you're reading this, you have time. Of course, that's assuming that writing is more important to you than farting around on the internet. Your call.

I have no ideas!

On rare occasions, ideas will fall out of the sky and beg to be written. Here's how it seems to work the other 99% of the time: people get ideas by writing. Start with a line of dialogue, a place, a memory, an object, a horse woodcharacter talking. See where it takes you. There are plenty of websites that will give you detailed story prompts for free. Maybe one of these will turn into your next book.

I'm not good enough!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nobody's good enough. I wasted years convinced I had no talent, that I wasn't special, that everything I wrote was awful. Guess what? It was awful, because I kept giving up on it before I'd really started. I've taken a lot of creative writing classes over the years and here's what I've learned: if this thing called talent exists, everybody's got some. Get interested in the story and the question of whether or not you are worthy should recede into the background where it belongs.

2014 is the Year of the Horse, and this means it's going to be a very lucky year. How do I know this? I don't. I'm just making it up. But I've decided to make it lucky and I hope you will too. And you know what really helps to bring luck? Work, and lots of it.

So make this the year everything changed, the year you got off your ass and onto your horse, and went somewhere.

 

 

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