Maybe it’s burn out. Maybe it’s just the end-of-year distractions, the weather, or the promise of having a clean slate arriving on the first of January (funny how the fresh start that is every waking morning doesn’t carry the same heft). Whatever the reason, the end-of-year blues are spreading. To me, to others in my critique group, and maybe to you too.
Side-effects are many, but the most common include a lack of motivation, a nagging urge to make excuses, and the tendency to promise yourself that you’ll be more productive come January 1st.
Whether it’s an exercise regiment you’re trying to stick with, some household chores you’re wanting to get done, or some sort of personal or professional task you’re struggling towards, like writing a novel, learning an instrument, or reading in a foreign language (i.e. the trifecta of failed resolutions), I have three tips to help you get started yesterday.
1: Seek Inspiration in Craft
Regardless your goal, someone has done it before. And they’ve told their tale. If it was worth doing, there’s already a book about it, a how-to video on YouTube, or a blog devoted to it. Trust me on this. When I find my motivation waning, especially as I plod through the murky middle of my novel, I find a fresh dose of inspiration in books that deal with the craft of storytelling. Reading of all kinds usually spurs my imagination and serves as a good example, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading a how-to book dealing with some aspect of fiction writing, and had to stop to jot down an idea for my own book. Arming myself with fresh ideas is a surefire way to guarantee that I’ll be back in the writer’s chair asap.
I’ve read books on gardening that inspired me to want to start a micro-farm; I’ve read books on feats of endurance and travel that inspired me to travel the world by bike. If you’re not going to actively begin working on your task right now: then at least motivate yourself through the works of others who’ve gone before you.
2: Condense Your Plan
I thought my first draft would have been done in June. Or October. Certainly by the end of November, if not Christmas at worst. And each time those dates came and went, I sat idly by realizing that life, other work, and the challenge of the task had proven that my goals were not only arbitrary, but not based in reality. Now that I can see the finish line and have a clearer understanding of exactly what my workflow is — and how I work best — I have put together a calendar that takes me from the middle of December through the end of January. 6 weeks, 24 tasks. Accomplish those two dozen tasks and the first major goal will be completed. It’s so easy to look at the new calendar and give yourself a goal for doing something by May. Or maybe by the end of summer. Don’t fall into that trap. If you’re starting a major project, identify the first major goal and set the end of January as your target date. Then break it into smaller chunks. so you know what you should be working on every day.
I’ve got 22 scenes left to write to finish my first draft. Instead of continuing to “try to get one or two done a week” while I also revise and rewrite earlier scenes with my critique group, I’m committing to writing a new scene every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, leaving Wednesday and Thursday for work on earlier material. I outlined exactly which scene I need to work on for every day now through January 31st.
3: Celebrate Your Successes
It’s tempting to doubt the worthiness of your goal, to think that all the hard work is just a waste of time. That nothing good will ever come out of it. Leaving aside the personal satisfaction from gaining a new skill or accomplishing a major task (and that’s really all that matters, in the end), you need to look to your past successes for inspiration. If you’re the type of person to dream big, and have big goals, then certainly you’ve accomplished something in your past. Or, if your’e trying something for the first time, and have been working on it for a period of time, look back over the prior months and years for rays of hope. Perhaps there were some signs that there is an audience waiting for you to finish, but you haven’t noticed yet.
By investing time in this blog, by giving presentations, and by being minimally active on social media, I’ve managed to grow my audience by nearly 500% in 2016. I can choose to either wallow in despair about how small those numbers may still be, or I can be happy that the number is still 5x the size it was last year. Similarly, my book One Lousy Pirate is a small self-pub’d title in a very tiny niche on Amazon’s massive website. It will never net me much money. Yet, ever since also making it available as a paperback in November, sales have increased substantially*. Contrary to the title of Steven Pressfield’s new book, someone apparently does want to read my shit. And they’re paying to do so nearly every day.
*Most of the sales are still in electronic form, but since more people search the full Amazon bookstore instead of just the Kindle store, having a paperback available places my book in more search queries.
So those are the three things that I’m trying to do to kick my 2017 off to a great start. And none of them require waiting for the arbitrary calendar flip. I’m starting them now. After all, waiting for January 1st is just another admission of defeat at the hands of resistance.
- Guest Blogging for Authors – Anne R. Allen’s hilarious blog post covers all the ways you should and shouldn’t query bloggers in hopes of guesting on their site. The ten tips further down in the article are exceptionally helpful. Check them out before you hit that send button!
- 10 Things You Didn’t Know About How the NYT Book Review Works – This Q&A with Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review answers a bunch of questions about how the NYT handles their book reviews and their Best Books of the year lists. An interesting look behind the curtain.
- William Fotheringham’s Top 10 Cycling Novels – The Guardian’s cycling columnist lists his ten favorite novels in which the novel was “centered on the act of cycling, rather than merely including bike riding as a means of transport or in background description.” I’m not so sure my current WIP, Tailwinds Past Florence, would meet that criteria (though there is a fair bit of cycling in it), but this is an interesting list nonetheless.
- Comedy Writing Secrets: Triple the Funny – Mark Shatz discusses the concept of three in writing humor. Setup, Anticipation (the triple), and Punchline. I don’t intend to write funny scenes, but sometimes my critique group laughs. I don’t know always know how to take that.
- 25 Short Books to Help You Meet Your Reading Challenge Goal – If you’re hoping to squeeze a couple more books onto your reading list before the New Year, then this list will help you find a few short ones you might be interested in. Some of these, such as The Alchemist, are shorter than I realized.
A Beginner’s Guide to Kaiseki, the World’s Finest Meal – There’s nothing quite like enjoying a kaiseki meal while in Japan. Imagine, eleven plates of photo-worthy food, most of which you will have no idea what it is, only that it looks incredibly exotic and delicious. Some of our best days in Japan were capped with a kaiseki, particularly this day in the Hakone region. Yet I must admit that I didn’t fully understand the significance of the dishes or the symbolism wrapped up within them. This article (with video) offers a history lesson on the subject of kaiseki… and has me anxiously awaiting our return to Japan next September.