Many people make writing one of their resolutions at the beginning of each year yet March is already here and, according to Forbes, as few as 8% will still be striving towards their goals. What a shame.
When I met Shelley Wilson, at a recent author event held by The Amethyst Centre in Warwickshire, she told me she had let doubt and fear crush her annual goal to write for too long. Aside from a little journaling, the only paper she had regular contact with was the sort that encased tobacco.
Then, one year, she discovered a simple solution. She realised she was getting overwhelmed by setting goals that were too big and needed to start small. She set out to conquer a series of short challenges hoping she’d find the confidence to write in time for National Novel Writing Month and would have built up enough stamina to keep going once the initial rush of motivation faded.
To make sure she couldn’t back out, she set up a blog to announce her commitments to the world and share her progress. Blogging would also get her into the habit of writing regularly. She planned everything out so she would have something to write about every week but remained open to opportunities and surprises so long as she was always working on something that took her closer to making this the best year of her life. The year she would finally become a writer.
Shelley set herself twelve challenges, one for each month, with some smaller steps in between. These were designed not only to improve her writing but the quality of her life overall. She shed pounds, found happiness, decluttered and went on a social media diet, all while keeping up a regular writing habit. Six of Shelley’s challenges are definitely worth trying if you’re committed to achieving your writing goals:
Do something creative
Get your creativity flowing and your pen moving every day. Could you join a creative writing class, become a member of a writing group, work on short stories for competitions, some flash fiction for fun? Could you blog, send letters to magazines or even doodle? Shelley loves the Zentangle method which is mesmerising.
Do something you’ve never done before
Being adventurous can grow self-belief and turn you into a more confident writer. Could you explore a new area of writing, a different genre or an alternative form? Or could you try a new experience, something you’ve always feared, something that may also inspire your writing? Shelley conquered the zip wire during this challenge and found breaking through terror liberating.
Adopt better habits
Do you need to cut down on coffee and find new fuels for your writing that don’t give you the shakes? Would you be less distracted if your desk was always tidier? Could you commit to a regular time to write which fits with your body’s rhythms? Could you start meditating to give your mind space to discover and reflect on ideas? Whatever you choose, work on one habit at a time, embrace it fully and see it through to get lasting results.
Get out and about more
Sometimes just being somewhere different can be inspiring and excursions don’t have to be miles from your doorstep or expensive. Being outdoors can stimulate new ideas, could be a form research and may give the stories you’re currently writing time to percolate. Why not wander out for a walk today?
Learn something new
Learning new things could also inspire your work. Maybe its something you’ve always wanted to master, something you need to research, or if you’d like to get into the mind of your story’s cast, something one of your characters loves doing. Distance learning and the breadth of information now available on the internet means it’s never been easier to access new knowledge, skills and experiences, though it’s lovely to be part of a live study group too.
Conquer your fears
This was the big one for Shelley. National Novel Writing Month was her opportunity to get down the entire first draft of her novel. Knowing she’d need to use her time wisely, she plotted, created character profiles and drew maps of her fictional world in the months leading up to it. Then, once she started writing, the deadline kept her focused and prevented her from abandoning her dream. She was surprised by the force with which the words flowed out and learned that more inspiration arrives when you are writing than it does beforehand. So the best way to get it done is simply to start. Shelley was elated when she completed the challenge and, in the months that followed, she was determined to polish and publish the story, sourcing an editor and cover designer in her quest to make it the best she could. Her confidence as a writer has blossomed and now she can’t stop. Shelley’s first novel became the start of a trilogy and the number of titles to her name continues to grow.
When December arrived, for the first time, Shelley was able to look back with the satisfaction of knowing she had learned even more than she’d set out to and had conquered many things she’d once feared. In addition to all this, her blog grew in popularity throughout the year and, after receiving encouragement from her readers and a renowned writing magazine, she decided to transform her experiences into a book so she could inspire even more people.
How I changed my life in a year dedicates one chapter to each of the challenges Shelley conquered. It’s a concise and compelling read, one of the few non-fiction books I’ve read in one sitting. It showed me that goals and resolutions don’t have to be conquered as a single, overwhelming high jump. Instead, I can take little leaps forward throughout a year, time them for when they’re best achieved and experience joy at the same time. Better still, it’s made me more determined than ever to finish my novel this year.
Writing was a huge part of changing Shelley’s life in a year. Could it transform yours too?