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Here's the list of New Year's resolutions I would have made when I first got serious about writing if I'd known then what I know now:

1.  No matter what, write what I want to read.  Connie Willis told me once, "Remember what you liked about science fiction in the first place."  That means to me that I should tell the stories only I can tell.  Don't worry about what anyone else is writing.  Don't worry about what I think is currently popular or selling (besides, whatever looks popular to me now was what was popular with editors six months to a year ago---who knows what they want now?  Why not make it what I'm writing?)

2.  Write consistently.  Don't do something stupid like let two months go by without actual writing happening.  Those are not only two months that I will never get back, but also writing is about learning and growing.  I'll be two months behind where I could have been in growth too.  Writing consistently will have the added benefit of making me think about writing consistently.  Someone asked me where my ideas come from, and the real answer is they come because I'm consistently thinking about writerly concerns.  I don't sit at my computer and then say, "What should I write about?"  I always have the flickering of an idea ready to go.

3.  Read as a writer.  Go back to the work I really admire and read with the idea of learning from a master.  Writers have the advantage of being in a profession that allows them to apprentice to anyone.  If I want to learn at the knee of William Shakespeare, I can.  If I want to enter a dialog with Ray Bradbury, I can.  All I need to do is listen to what the writers I admire have to say (through their writing) and take notes.

4.  Be brave.  Take risks on the page.  These can be risks with language, risks with plot, risks with theme.  No matter what, don't write stuff that feels "safe" because I want to avoid criticism or because I've been praised for telling that kind of story before.  Remember Neil Young.  He's never done the same album twice.

5.  Be kind and reach out to other writers.  If I read something I like, write the author and tell her so.  It's amazing to me how isolating this profession can be.  I remember when I published my first story in Analog.  I thought, "Oh, my god!  I'm famous."  Hmmm.  Not the case.  I loved it though when an established pro sent me a e-mail later saying he liked the story.  That meant a lot to me.  The writing world is small, really, and there aren't many folks in it.  If we aren't kind to each other, who will be kind to us?

6.  Be thick skinned, but listen.  I got a rejection once where the editor scrawled at the bottom of my cover letter, "Why don't you try telling a story next time."  I laughed it off, and then looked at the manuscript again to see if I'd actually told a story.  I had one story that was bounced 39 times.  About half the time the editors who responded to it said that the story seemed "slow" or "long" to them.  I used Ken Rand's 10% Solution on the piece, lost about 1,400 words out of a 7,700 word manuscript, and sold it to the next market.  This gives me resolution 6a.  Learn quicker.

Now, if I had just drawn up this list of resolutions in 1983, when I really started thinking of myself as a writer who was trying to write publishable work.

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Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
stonetable
Jan. 1st, 2008 10:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Jim. This is a great list of things that should be taken to heart.
jimvanpelt
Jan. 2nd, 2008 12:57 am (UTC)
You are welcome, Adam. The timing seemed right *g*
rhonawestbrook
Jan. 1st, 2008 10:58 pm (UTC)
:: Steals Jim's list for her own cuz it's made of awesome::
jimvanpelt
Jan. 2nd, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
Hi, Rhona. Hope you have a great year!
guy_a_demarco
Jan. 1st, 2008 11:25 pm (UTC)
Great List
There you go again, writing something fun with a twist of educational value hidden in the soup.

I agree with your list, although I'd move 6a up towards the top. I just started doing item 3 last year (hey, it's 2008 now!) When I find something I really enjoy, I go back and analyze how it was constructed, and why someone bought it. That has helped me grow as a writer, enough to get into the HWA.

I would add one thing in spot seven -- set some writing goals, short and long term. My 2007 goals were to generate at least $250 from my fiction, and to qualify for the HWA. I accomplished both. My 2008 goals are to qualify for the SFWA and make at least $500 from my fiction. Having something to shoot for can keep one focused. I set monthly goals, usually a number of stories to complete. If I miss a goal, I focus on what I accomplished instead of beating myself up.

Thanks for a great post, and allowing me to accomplish item 5 from your list :)
jimvanpelt
Jan. 2nd, 2008 01:00 am (UTC)
Re: Great List
I like goals too. I should have put it on my list, although my own writing goal has stayed the same for the last few years, and it's just about productivity. I can't control who buys my stuff and when, so my sales have roller coastered. Sometimes a lot of work sells close together. Other times there are slumps. What's funny is that I submitted work for five years in a row while selling very little, and then that work all sold within a couple of years. What happened? I didn't rewrite, but now the stuff that wasn't impressing anyone was selling. A part of the process is a mystery.
albionidaho
Jan. 1st, 2008 11:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. I truly believe that you have one of the best blogs for some of us newbie writers to apprentice at. This is an excellent list, and just another post of yours that I'll go back to again and again, I'm sure.
jimvanpelt
Jan. 2nd, 2008 01:01 am (UTC)
You're welcome! Good luck with your writing projects in the new year.
albionidaho
Jan. 2nd, 2008 04:54 am (UTC)
I wish you the very same!
dakegra
Jan. 1st, 2008 11:58 pm (UTC)
great list, thanks for posting it up.
jimvanpelt
Jan. 2nd, 2008 01:02 am (UTC)
You're welcome, Dave. Good luck in the new year!
jp_davis
Jan. 2nd, 2008 11:50 am (UTC)
I feel like a parrot, but this is a great list. I think I'll import it whole hog into my own resolutions.
sboydtaylor
Jan. 2nd, 2008 05:33 pm (UTC)
What a great list. The "be brave" and "learn faster" goals especially ring true for me. I never knew there was so much to learn.
jeffsoesbe
Jan. 2nd, 2008 10:08 pm (UTC)
Jim --

Nice list, one that I'll be keeping around. I'm good about some of them ("write what I like to read" has been my mantra since I started and unpacks nicely), but I need to keep working on braveness and consistency. That's what 2008 is for!

Thanks!

- yeff

praetorian1001
Jan. 3rd, 2008 09:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this.

Sincerely,
John-Mark
jimvanpelt
Jan. 3rd, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC)
Hi, John-Mark. I hope you have a great new year!
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )