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the most important resolution for writers
one simple sentence for 2012
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

We writers are, perhaps, even more susceptible to the idea of New Year's Resolutions than regular people. After all, we're always setting goals, aren't we? Always trying to improve? And that's what resolutions are about. Setting a goal or making a plan, swearing to do better at something we'd always hoped to be better at, or to stop doing something we shouldn't.

But these goals have a dark side. We sometimes beat ourselves up needlessly for failing to meet a target that was arbitrary -- possibly meaningless -- in the first place. Or, we move heaven and earth to meet that target and we "succeed", only to find it doesn't actually make us better writers or produce great writing.

So what's a resolution-loving writer to do? Stop resolving? Hardly.

Here's one resolution you won't regret. It's my resolution for the year, too, and I invite you to join in it with me:

This year, I will spend more time focusing on my own words than on others'.

It's the only resolution I know that works for all writers, no matter what stage you're at, and no matter what your particular strengths and weaknesses are. For some of us, it means not obsessing over reviews -- whether they're good or bad, they shouldn't be parsed down to the gnat's eyelash. For some of us, it means focusing more on getting our work as polished as possible before handing it over to a beta reader for critique.

And we all get drawn in by other people's words, in ways that may not be healthy. I heard agents hate prologues. Someone told me publishers only want vampire novels right now. I read on a website that you absolutely have to hire a freelance editor before you submit because editors don't edit anymore. Anything you haven't lived through firsthand is hearsay, and while the advice and support of other writers is a beautiful thing, there are a whole lot of guidelines, suggestions, "rules", and things people tell you that harm more than they help. Don't tune out what other people say, but don't let what they've heard or seen replace your own judgment or experience.

So the resolution to focus on your own words doesn't mean to regard other people's words entirely. Those words have a purpose. But your words have a purpose too, and the actual words of your actual writing are the most important thing you could be working on at any given time. Why lose sight of that?

Write the best book (or script or story or whatever mode you choose) you can. It doesn't guarantee success -- however you define success for yourself -- but it sure improves your chances. The chances that you are actually working too hard to refine every element of your writing are pretty small. There is, of course, a time to let go of every piece of writing, but most of us get sick of revisions long before that moment comes. We need to be reminded to stick to it far more than we need to be reminded to send it off into the world.

This year, take the advice of elementary school teachers everywhere and keep your eyes on your own paper. Resolved: your writing will be the better for it.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


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topic: writing
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