Every New Year each of us makes resolutions about our writing. “I’ll write 5 pages every day.” “I’ll sell my first book.” “I’ll snag that great agent.” And while each of these is admirable and there is nothing wrong with them, I think they miss the point of what it takes to be a published author and to continue to be a selling author. Here is the resolution I propose: I want to become a better writer.
There isn’t a writer who would be unable to make this resolution. We all have areas in our writing that could stand some improvement. So if you were willing to make this resolution (and really who doesn’t want to improve their craft?) let’s look at the steps to make the next year your own personal Year of Craft:
1) Take a self inventory of your writing and decide what are your weak points. If you don’t know, ask your critique group or someone who has read your writing. Ferret out whatever it is that keeps your manuscript from making the leap from the slush pile to bestsellerdom, and then conquer it. Plotting your weak point? Emotional depth in your characters? Sagging middles? Pinpoint the problem (or problems) and get to work. Read how-to books, (Need some recommendations? Here are 21 fabulous, author-endorsed, awesome books on writing) take online classes, find authors who excel at your weakness and read them voraciously. The point is to learn how to overcome a weakness.
2) Discover your strengths. Find out what makes your storytelling unique and learn how to capitalize on this skill or skills. It may seem redundant or a waste of time to improve what you are good at, but what you are good at may be the skill that becomes the very foundation of your voice and work. Train like it is for the Olympics.
3) Resolve to finish a book. You will never sell a book if you don’t write it. Consider this: write one page a day and in a year your book will be done. One measly page. 250 words. They don’t have to be perfect, they don’t have to be great—that is what revisions are for. But a completed draft is a far sight closer to publishing than a pile of blank pages. Besides, writing is a craft, like any other art and it isn’t mastered the first time you type the words to the page. It is mastered through writing thousands and thousands of words. Through practice and study. Through writing touching scenes, and page turning hooks, and black moments. By shoring up weak plot points. By sometimes forging ahead without a solid path behind you. But finish the book. You will learn more finishing than you will ever learn starting project after project.
4) Master the craft of revisions. Learn to self-edit. Learn to craft your story, either with a finished draft or one page at a time—whatever works for you. Again, there are wonderful books on this subject, as well as online classes to help.
5) Find your people to get you through the dull days of winter, the bright promise of spring, the beckoning rays of summer and the cool breezes of fall. Join a critique group, attend a writer’s conference, take an online class, join a loop that encourages you. Find that monthly, weekly, daily motivation that keeps you writing the same story from “It was a dark and stormy night,” to “Happily Ever After.”
And the best way to keep any writing resolution? Keep writing. With every word you only get better.