Make 2021 the year you keep your writing plans and achieve your ambitions with our ten-point checklist
1. Decide what you want to accomplish
The first step is to be clear about what you want to achieve for your writing in the year to come. It might be that you want to complete a first draft, or compile enough poems for a collection. It may be that you need to redraft a manuscript. Perhaps you'd like to make this the year that you start to submit, with the aim of seeing your writing in print. You might want to undertake a writing course, or finish a novel, or complete a certain number of short stories, or find an agent. Whatever it is, defining what you want to accomplish by the end of the year is a vital first step in formulating your strategy for success.
2. Be realistic about what you can achieve
To stand a good chance of achieving something, you need to be realistic. We’re all about aiming for the stars, but there’s little point thinking you can complete an epic trilogy if you can only spare an hour a week to write it. It’s perhaps not the best plan to decide Steven Spielberg is going to turn your script into a Hollywood blockbuster if you’ve never written one before. But a year is good amount of time for you to complete a major writing project. Which brings us to the next point.
3. Break it down into manageable chunks
An 80,000 word manuscript, divided by 52, needs you to add just over 1,500 words every week to complete a draft in a year. Adding 1,500 words to your draft every seven days sounds much more doable than thinking about the 80,000 words as a block. If you enter a new piece of work into a writing competition every week, or submit it to a market (look on this website, on the Writer's App and in the Writers’ News section of WM for regular updates on who is looking for what) you’d have completed 52 new poems, stories or pieces of prose. Each entry or submission increases your chances of winning and getting published. Chipping away at a major project is the sure and steady way to see it through to completion.
4. Set aside a period of designated writing time. And thinking/down time, which is just as necessary for writers.
You get a project completed by doing it, not thinking about doing it or wishing you were doing it. If you are going to take your writing seriously, set aside time for it. It may be an hour a day, or one morning at the weekend, or two evenings a week – whatever fits into your schedule. Decide what the best times are for you, and ringfence them as your designated writing time, just as you would schedule a regular Zoom meeting or hobby evening. Let the people you live with know that this is your writing time and that you’re not to be interrupted or distracted. Once you get in the habit of writing at regular times, it will become a habit that will make you a productive writer. Also, make sure to schedule thinking time – a solitary walk is good for this – because this will help you to come up with the ideas that mean you will show up for your writing time with something you want to get on with.
5. Set yourself achievable targets.
If you write just 250 words a day, every day, by the end of a week you’ll completed 1,750 words. Finding and entering one writing competition every month can be neatly fitted into a busy schedule, and so can setting aside an hour each week to go through your ideas notebook and jot down thoughts and ideas. If you overreach yourself you may be frustrated when you fall short, but making your target one that you can realistically attain will enable you to tick the ‘done’ box each week and feel a sense of satisfaction as your word count/submission rate/number of completed stories or poems mounts.
6. Stick to it – or exceed it.
Prioritise your writing and your writing time. Ensure meeting your weekly target is a regular commitment, and a minimum requirement. Make an appointment with yourself to turn up to your writing, and ensure that you don’t leave your desk, laptop, notebook or wherever it is you write until you have completed the wordcount you set yourself. The chances are you will exceed your set wordcount but completing the basic target will keep you on track for completing your project.
7. Keep a tally of how you’re doing
There is nothing more motivating when you’ve embarked on a major writing project than seeing how the words mount up. You could mark up a writing calendar with weekly targets and tick them off, or just make a note in your diary of how many words you have completed that week. Whatever system you choose, watching the competed word count increase and the ‘to-be-completed’ count decrease is immensely satisfying, and will remind you how much progress you’re making.
8. Build in a bit of leeway in case life gets in the way
As this last year has taught us all, life can get in the way of the best-laid plans. There may be times when you have to put your writing on hold, or to one side, when other things need to take priority. If this happens to you, remind yourself that it’s OK if you don’t write for a while, and promise yourself that you will go back to your writing when you can, and adjust your targets to take into account the period when you haven’t been able to concentrate on writing. The important thing is to remind yourself that you are still a writer, and that your writing will be waiting for you to return to it when you are able.
9. Stop yourself from getting stale or blocked
Have something else on the go in case your main project gets temporarily stuck. This can happen to any writer and the best way to divert yourself from a problem or block with your major project is to have a writing side-project that you do for fun. Why not play with a form or genre that’s new to you, or experiment with a new style of writing – try non-fiction if you’ve always written poetry, or flash fiction if you usually concentrate on novels?
10. Do something every week to keep in touch with the writing community
Make sure that you keep in touch with the writing world in some way or other so that you feel you and your project are part of the writing community. Read Writing Magazine, check out courses and workshops, contact agents, submit pieces of writing, find competitions and enter them, write blog posts, interact on social media with other writers. Regard this as an investment in yourself as a writer. Doing these things will re-inforce your identity as a writer and help you create links. If you do this, by the end of the year, you’ll not only have completed the project you’ve set yourself, but you’ll have created a network and an identity for yourself as a writer with a sense of purpose.