This article originally appeared in the newsletter of the Phoenix Screenwriters Association. To sign up for their newsletters, filled with screenwriting tips and industry news, go here.
The start of a new year is a good time to sit and ruminate on yourself, your writing, and the state of your life. Okay, maybe writers excel at that year-round, but in January, you can turn that rumination into something productive by making New Year’s resolutions. So why not make some specifically for your writing? Defining your goals is the first step toward achieving them. Here are seven categories of writing resolutions to consider setting for your new year, with my own resolutions thrown in as examples.
1. Writing Habits
What about the nuts and bolts of your writing practice would you like to improve? Be specific. If you want to be more productive, what does that look like for you? More scripts completed in a year? More pages per day? Also try to be action-oriented, thinking in terms of what you can actually commit to that will help you achieve that benchmark. Getting up an hour earlier three days a week to write? Downloading and using a distraction blocker software? Creating a dedicated writing space in your home, or cutting something else from your budget so you can afford to go write in coffee shops more frequently? Maybe the adjustment to your habits is more about trying something new, like writing a first draft longhand in a notebook, or listening to classical music while you work.
My resolution: I’m expecting a baby in early 2024, so I know that habits of any sort may fly out the window. My main writing goal for the year will be just to figure out how to get any writing done at all with my new lifestyle. But while I’ll be on leave in the spring, I’m going to aim to ease myself back in with at least two writing sessions a week beginning in May.
2. Content Consumption
What goes into the brain affects what comes out, so what you’re reading, watching, and listening to can impact your growth as a writer. You might think in terms of quantity (read one script per week) or quality (watch more films by up-and-coming directors in your genre). Content consumption resolutions may actually be about what you consume less of, say, no TikTok until you’ve completed your writing session for the day, or no news after 10 PM if it affects your sleep and mental health.
My resolution: I read all the time, but most often it’s for an author I’m going to interview on my book podcast, or a critique partner friend to whom I owe notes, or research for a historical project, etc. (plus these days, books about babies!). I’ll set a goal of reading five books next year that I simply want to read and that should be instructive for me artistically. Waiting patiently at the top of my list are Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Melissa Broder’s The Pisces.
3. Craft Development
This is what it all comes down to: what can you do over the next year to make yourself a better writer? Of course, practicing strong habits for your writing routine and engaging with content that inspires you can both help in that quest. You might also look for other ways to educate yourself, like reading a book or listening to a podcast about writing, taking a course, going on a retreat, or joining a writers’ group or finding a critique partner for notes. Maybe you want to try a new format or genre, or do writing prompts on a regular basis, or outline every project. You can’t just resolve “I’m going to be a better writer” (I wish!), but you can look for action steps that might lead you there.
My resolution: I’ve often let creative fulfillment and quality come last in my writing, prioritizing projects that other people have asked me for or that have a greater shot at selling over those that truly inspire me, or putting writing career-related obligations before the writing itself. Especially with my writing time becoming more constrained, I want to make sure I’m using that time to produce work that I find meaningful. So my resolution is to get better at saying no this year, and before I take on any obligation, ask myself if the time involved will truly help me become the writer I want to be.
4. Career Development
While craft should always come first, it’s important to think proactively about what you’re doing to build yourself professionally as a screenwriter or author. Maybe you want to engage more with writing communities on social media and post on a certain account at least once a week. Or look for in-person networking events, or strengthen your existing network by reaching out to industry contacts on a regular basis. You can educate yourself about the business by reading an entertainment or publishing news site every morning. You can attend a conference—with your elevator pitches ready. Many writers want to wait until they have a strong portfolio to think about laying the foundation for publishing or producing their work, but it’s never too early to start!
My resolution: I know that maintaining a foothold in the writing community may be a more realistic goal for me over the next year than growing my network and presence. So I’m starting simple: after a few months of maternity leave, beginning in May, I want to rejoin at least two of my writers’ groups for networking and critiques.
As you’re pushing yourself to new writing heights, make sure you have the physical and mental resources to keep climbing. Taking care of yourself as a writer might mean getting outside for a weekly walk to clear the cobwebs in your head. It might mean no writing after a certain time to make sure you get enough sleep, or disconnecting from social media that aggravates anxiety and imposter syndrome, or building a more ergonomic setup at your desk, or creating a folder of positive feedback you’ve received to look back on, or using affirmations to remind yourself of the value of your work.
My resolution: Since this year is going to require a major priority reset for me, I resolve to give myself grace and not get hung up on my writing productivity as I adjust. Once I’m off maternity leave, I’ll start by aiming to make time for writing at least once a week, as opposed to my current goal of once a day.
Think big: what’s one ambitious, pie-in-the-sky goal you’d like to set? Maybe you’ll enter a competitive contest or apply for a prestigious fellowship. You might get up the nerve to send a script to that industry contact you met. You could push yourself creatively, taking on an ambitious story that interests you, or participating in NaNoWriMo to write the first draft of a novel in a month. Be gutsy with your goals, and even if you don’t fully achieve them, you’ll probably grow in the attempt.
My resolution: I’d like to enter more contests this year, including the Page and the Nicholl for screenwriting.
In the midst of all of this change, take a moment to reflect on what’s worked for you over the past year and what you want to keep doing. If you got into a productive rhythm with writing sessions per week, or joined an organization that’s been helpful, or started a project you’re excited about, it’s worth actively resolving to keep up the good work.
My resolution: One of the areas that has brought me the most joy and fulfillment in my writing over the past year has been short literary fiction. So I resolve to write at least one short story in the new year and to send it out to magazines.
Happy New Year to all, and may the muse be with you!