This post, by Keith Cronin, originally appeared on Writer Unboxed on 12/11/12.
I write this hoping that there will actually BE a new year. After all, there are those who maintain that the world is ending not just soon, but specifically tomorrow. They base this belief on an ancient Mayan calendar (which some have observed bears more than a striking resemblance to the top of a gigantic Oreo cookie).
But on the off chance that the Mayans got it wrong – which could be a simple matter of the slip of some poor stonemason’s chisel – I’m going to hold on to my characteristic glass-half-full attitude, and put forth some ideas on how you might want to approach next year – or at least whatever portion of the year remains before our cosmic Oreo is completely consumed.
I’m big on new year’s resolutions. I don’t know why, since I’ll admit I’m not that great at actually following through on them. But I think there’s something strangely satisfying in the act of at least making the list, of attempting to get our ducks in a row to face our next trip around the sun. It gives us a general direction to follow, before life presents us with the inevitable fork (or other piece of cutlery) in the road. It’s sentimental, I know, but I really do like entering each new year with the mindset of starting fresh, of picking something to focus on and saying, “THIS is the thing I’m going to do this year.”
And I think this can be a particularly helpful exercise for writers. Why? Because being a writer is hard. We face many obstacles and distractions. So I thought I’d try to help carve through some of them, by offering ten items for you to consider adding to your own Post-Mayan-Apocalypse To-Do List (or, PMATDL). Let’s begin.
1. Read more.
I know, this is pretty basic. But haven’t most of us lamented at some time or other that we simply don’t have time to read? That’s not good. In fact, it’s a showstopper. As Stephen King puts it:
Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
But Stephen doesn’t just scold us. In his book On Writing, from which the above quote is drawn, King points out that if we always keep a book handy, there are plenty of opportunities to read, as long as we learn to take satisfaction “in small sips as well as in long swallows.” Whether you’re a fan of King’s fiction or not, it’s hard to argue with his logic.
2. Complain less.
I noted above that being a writer is hard. Yeah, but here’s the thing. So is being a plumber. Or a brain surgeon. Or just about anything other than being a Jersey Shore cast member. Nobody’s got it totally easy, and – more important – nobody really wants to hear how hard your life is, particularly when it comes to being a writer. After all, this is something you volunteered for, not something you’re being forced to do (even if you’re the type who considers writing to be your “calling”).
On top of that, don’t forget that the people you’re complaining to are also your potential readers. Who wants to buy a book from a big old crybaby? Do you really want that to be your platform? (Keith pauses to make a mental note to add “Stop saying that godawful word platform” to his own list of new year’s resolutions.) But the most compelling reason to complain less is that it gives you more time to write.
3. Back up your computer.
If you’re not already doing this, put this at the top of your list. We’ve all heard the horror stories, and it’s way too easy to assume that those terrible things only happen to other people. Sorry, but it’s all too likely that there’s some nasty computer gremlin out there with your name on his list, and he’s coming to get you. Be ready.
And it’s so easy, there’s really no excuse. I’m a big fan of Carbonite, which has been a lifesaver to me and my family multiple times over the years. But there are other solutions out there. Look for the ones that back up your data automatically without requiring you to remember to do anything – this eliminates both the hassle and the excuses.
Don’t put your hard work at risk, folks. Back it up. Do it now – I’ll wait.