What is resolve? And why do we talk so much about it at this time of year? Simply defined, the word can either be a noun or a verb, a thing or an action we espouse, involving firmness of purpose and determination to reach some sort of goal.
So why do we do this whole “New Year’s Resolutions” thing? Is it because starting a new year somehow frees us up to do things we weren’t able to do before? Unlikely. Or is it because, historically, many cultures have a tradition of ceremonially marking the passing of an old year by letting go of past worries and struggles? Possibly. My personal theory is that New Year’s Resolutions came about as a combination of cultural ceremony and human psychology, wherein people find it useful and perhaps easier to lay the groundwork for big tasks or challenging years if they do it all at once, while they’re in a certain frame of mind. And the winter holidays in North America are the perfect time for reflection; in many parts of the continent, we’re all stuck inside due to forbidding weather, and exhausted by the passing of a full year. Holidays like the one we’ve just had give us some much-needed emotional distance from our experiences, past and future, that can be fuel for making plans for change.
As authors, our resolutions automatically look a little … different. We might also resolve to go on diets or quit smoking or any of the other “top tens” out there, but we usually sneak a couple of writing-related objectives into the list, too. And with so many people setting the goal of publishing their next book in 2017, there are some specific resolutions which might be of use to you which I thought I might mention here–ways in which you can achieve your dream of book publication in time.
- Keep writing, and keep it structured. At least, you know, to the extent which is useful. I started scheduling an hour before getting ready for work each morning during NaNoWriMo this last November, and that has proven to be a habit I can more or less stick to now. Very useful for me, personally. It may not be useful for you. But one thing is certain–no matter when you schedule yourself to write, make sure that you do make it a habit. Publishing means very little if you give up on the thing you love most: writing more books!
- Lock in a deadline for your first draft. If you write for an hour a day, you can reasonably expect to finish a first draft within two to three months of steady writing. It doesn’t need to be a full draft, but it does need to capture the main essence of what you’re trying to get at. You can go back and diagnose problems of plot and characterization later, but if you agonize over the details during the drafting stage, you’ll never get it done. I speak from personal experience.
- Lock in a deadline for your second draft, too. A second draft is where you fill in all the big blank spaces you left while drafting the first manuscript, and maybe address some of the larger issues of pacing and structure. I recommend another two months for this process.
- Stop writing–and stop editing, too. Once you have a good second draft in hand, it’s time to leave the writing desk for a little while and look for some outside assistance. Layer your personal crew of early readers–family and friends–with the expertise of a professional editor. I can’t emphasize the importance of this professional help enough! Our friends and family are wonderful, but they tend to be bound by affection in some ways, or they might lead busy lives which prevent them from giving your manuscript their full, expert attention. And I recommend seeking professional advice at this stage because you still have the emotional room to make big edits and changes without feeling as though you’re butchering the text. A copyeditor, later on, can catch your spelling mistakes and so forth, but a true professional edit at this stage will help you fix character flaws, plot holes, and large-scale disorganization. Very important. And editors are available in many places, including through Outskirts Press.
- You guessed it–schedule your last round of edits. Give yourself that deadline, maybe a month or two out. This will bring you to six months from today–June of 2017. And that gives you a couple of months before Awards Season rolls around to get your book to a self-publishing company and out into the world, making you eligible for those awards submission deadlines.
And that’s it! I highly recommend keeping your resolutions simple and straightforward, and of course … don’t punish yourself if you perceive yourself somehow “falling short.” Resolutions are guidelines and motivators, and should not ever be a source of shame. Use what’s useful, and lose what’s a distraction, I say! And may 2017 be a year of firm resolve for all of us!
You are not alone. ♣︎