It's that time of year again and here are my top resolutions for writers and emerging writers and anyone who wants to write.
Don't fool yourself into thinking that weaving stories while you travel to work or peel potatoes or sit watching the world go by is almost the same as being a writer. Writing in your head is only an acceptable substitute for writing on paper when you are thrown into a computer-less, pen-less and paper-less environment against your will. (It has to be against your will because otherwise you'd have brought such basic necessities along, wouldn't you?) Something happens when you put words into the hard concrete of type or the softer clay of pen or pencil. You can start a sentence without knowing where it will end. You can bring unconnected ideas together and make something new. Working with your hand and head, you can discover what it is you want to write and it is always always different to the way it seemed when you were just thinking about it.
2) PRACTICE LIKE MUSICIANS PRACTICE THE SCALES
You don't always have to be writing a story or working on a big project. How about finding the right combination of words to describe the colour of the carpet or the exact sound the cistern in the bathroom is making. Or use 10 words to describe the smell of a candle just after it's been blown out.
3) COMMIT TO WRITING
Many professionals live by the thousand words a day rule. It doesn't have to a thousand good words or a thousand words that will some day be published, just a decent wodge of words out of which something like a story, or a half decent idea or a phrase will emerge. Think of it as manufacturing raw material.
But it is important that you don't set yourself up to fail. For most people a thousand words is ambitious. How about 500 words? Or a page of your notebook? Or don't set yourself a word count at all and fix on a set amount of time instead. Ten minutes a day perhaps? Or if that seems too much, make it 10 minutes a week. Just make it something.
4) DON"T BEAT YOURSELF UP
If you don't make your personal goal . It doesn't say anything about you as a writer or as a person if you fail to make your word count, just that life got in the way. There's always the next day or the next week...
5) BUT NEVER EVER SAY YOU DON'T HAVE TIME TO WRITE
Unless you also never ever watch television. There's nothing wrong in watching other people's stories but you can't use them as a reason for not writing your own. And there is something wrong about making excuses. You don't have to be a writer, you know...
Read the kind of books you want to write. At least one a month. Read everything else in between. A couple of times a year (this is an absolute minimum) read something that is not "your kind of thing": action thrillers if you enjoy romance, literary fiction if you aspire to writing science fiction. Don't create a reading ghetto for yourself. Venture out now and then and discover new ways of telling stories and creating characters.
7) READ ONE POEM A MONTH
Even if you hate poetry - especially if you hate poetry. There's a lot to learn about using language and writing succinctly from a good poem. If you're not sure where to start I suggest Emily Dickinson (19th century American) and Wendy Cope (21st century British).
HAVE I LEFT OUT SOMETHING VITAL? Do you have a resolution to add? Do let me know if you have any advice to share.