I’m not normally a big fan of making a New Year’s resolution (obviously, if it’s almost March and I’m just now getting around to writing about the topic). I believe in fixing things as they need fixing, not waiting for some magical date on the calendar. (Although, if I were to pick a date it would be September because, to me, back to school season is more about starting over than January will ever be.) Anyway, where am I going with this?
Along with fixing what needs to be fixed when the problem is identified, I prefer to make what I call, “The Long Resolution.” Instead of making lots of small resolutions, or one with a specific end date/goal (i.e., lose ten pounds), I try to make one big, specific resolution and work on it for the entire year. Consider it a deep dive into whatever topic/project I choose.
Why do this? Why not just go with the standard resolution? Because most resolutions are either too quick to provide a sense of accomplishment, or too nebulous to feel like I’ve accomplished anything at all. Yes, there’s a great sense of accomplishment in losing ten pounds or writing a novel, but once it’s done, it’s done. And other resolutions have no goal at all. “Improve my craft,” or, “Exercise more” doesn’t provide an identifiable goal to work toward.
If I’m resolving to do something, I’m going big. I want to spend the year in focused practice or study.
Some of my past resolutions (writing and otherwise) have looked like this:
- Study the Roman Empire, specifically for lessons that can be applied to today’s government issues. (This is this year’s resolution, if you’re wondering.)
- Learn Danish and become as fluent as possible.
- Practice my tennis and get good enough to compete in at least one local tournament without embarrassing myself.
- Spend the year learning all I can about social media marketing for authors/freelancers.
- Improve my dialogue skills.
- Improve my plotting/WIP planning skills.
- Study the Tudor period of English history.
- Learn basic automotive repair.
- Study WWII.
- Spend a year perfecting my querying/proposal writing skills.
During the year, I go as deep and as far as I can with a topic. When I’ve exhausted the basic resources, I look for more. Or find an expert to teach me. I’m always looking for what else I can learn or practice on the topic.
I don’t spend every free moment on these things, obviously, but when I have some free time, I work on my deep dive. Sometimes these things occur naturally as part of my work. The year I spent working on my querying, I had three manuscripts I was shopping, plus a bunch of spec articles, so I got a lot of practice. Other times I have to make time specifically for my projects, but they’re always there, waiting for me.
The benefit of working this way is twofold. First, I have a concrete goal. I’m not just aiming to “Improve my craft,” I’m aiming to improve specific, troublesome aspects of my craft (plotting, dialogue, etc.). As a result, I’m never at loss for what to work on, and it gives me specific questions to ask and resources to seek.
Second, I learn a lot more. When you study something intently for a year, you can’t help but learn it. If you’re attacking everything in a scattershot manner, you don’t learn as much. You might learn a little about a lot, but will any of it stick beyond the year? Hard to say.
At the end of the year, I have a solid body of knowledge on a topic, or a wealth of practice under my belt. Hopefully I’m much better at whatever I was working on, or I’ve acquired enough knowledge to more thoroughly understand a topic. I look at it like being in college where I would spend a semester in focused study on one subject. Now that I’m not being graded, it’s a lot more fun.