New Year’s Resolutions/Writing One Day at a Time

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Oh, okay, yes, the year is still new and I am finding myself compelled to do a New Year’s resolutions post.

One good thing is about writing a blog is that it makes one – well, me, anyway – more inclined to make public resolutions. I’m not actually sure how useful a list ever is. When it comes down to it, we all have kind of the same resolutions every year. Basically. Write more books and be a better person, right? Yes, okay, and look hotter, somehow.

But this year I wanted to do a list, mostly because as I said recently, 2011 was so hard it’s amazing just that I survived it.

I complain about the abject agony of writing all the time, but this year writing has been lifesaving, just to have one familiar thing to do every day.

But things are getting better. I’m feeling that I could move beyond survival to actually enjoying myself again.

So resolutions make sense, because they imply there IS a future, at least until the world ends in December. JUST KIDDING.

First, the standard ones:

Working out. This is one I don’t have to worry about. Exercise has been periodically too much of an obsession; I’m one who more often needs to tell myself, “You don’t REALLY need to take that two-hour Boot Camp class today.” I know if I don’t work out every day I become a rabid animal within 48 hours; it’s my version of antidepressants (depression being, as David pointed out yesterday, the real health hazard for writers). But these days I’m more balanced about working out. I take mostly dance classes, which is the way I most like to move and it’s so habitual by now it’s never a big deal to get myself to class to do it. So dance four or five times a week and one killer ab/ass class on top of that, not as much fun as dancing but the results are so immediate and visual, it’s addictive. No, I mean, it’s good.

Eating. Pretty good about this, too. I don’t eat too much, I eat mostly the right things, I know how to combine proteins, and I don’t keep anything like ice cream or Cheetos or macadamia nuts in the house, ever. One thing here – I am going to try to eat more Superfoods next year – why not, right? Salmon, blueberries, pomegranates, almonds, yams, dark greens; I love all that stuff anyway. I am finding it very MESSY to eat pomegranates, but wow, are they good.

Getting out more. Well, with my conference schedule this year I don’t have to worry about a social life, even though I have the typical author problem of feast or famine in this department. You live like a hermit while you’re writing, and party till you drop at the conferences. These days I’m mostly paid to go, a big perk of the job. But I am resolved to say yes more than no to social events.

Wear more colors.  I’m terrible about always automatically reaching for one of the five thousand black things in my closet (but they’re all different!). I mean, with my hair, I don’t really worry about standing out. Or rather, I do worry – about standing out too much. I KNOW why big city dwellers constantly wear black; it’s anonymous (and hides city dirt. And SO slimming….) But I also love dressing up for conferences, where I feel safe, and one of the most fun things is having people enjoy what I wear. So yes, a conscious effort to mix up the colors a bit this year.

Giving more. I am grateful to be feeling financially stable, and am glad to plug my favorite charities at the beginning of the year: Children of the Night, Kiva, Equality Now, Equality California. And don’t forget Wikipedia – you KNOW you use it.

Children of the Night – Rescues teenagers from prostitution.
Kiva You can pledge $25 or more as a microloan to small businesswomen in developing countries, the loan will be paid back and you can loan again to someone else.
Equality Now Ending violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world.
Equality California – Advocates for civil and legal rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Californians.

Writing more?

Okay, this one is not possible without a total brain meltdown.

My problem here is not that I’m not writing enough, but that I have too many concurrent projects. But I had a really productive December and am on track to finish my latest paranormal by my deadline at the end of January, which will make me less frantic about my contractual obligations. And I am closing in on finishing the thriller that I’ve been working on this year, sometimes just a few minutes a day. But five minutes a day for a year equals a book.

Did you catch that? I’ll say it again. Five minutes of writing a day for a year equals a book.

Which is what I really wanted to write about today, because I don’t think it’s said often enough that you CAN write a novel (or a script, or a TV pilot….) in whatever time you have. Even if that’s only five minutes a day. If you have kids, if you have the day job from hell, if you are clinically depressed – whatever is going on in your life, if you have five minutes a day, as long as you write EVERY DAY, to the best of your ability, you can write a novel that way.

I don’t know if I’ve posted this here before, maybe a million years ago, but I wrote my first novel, The Harrowing, by writing just five minutes per day.

My day job was screenwriting, at the time, and yes, it was a writing job, but it had turned into the day job from hell.

But fury is a wonderful motivator and at the end of the day, every day, I was so pissed off at the producers I was working for that I would make myself write five minutes a day on the novel EVERY NIGHT, just out of spite.

Okay, the trick to this is – that if you write five minutes a day, you will write more than five minutes a day, sometimes a whole hell of a lot more than five minutes a day most days. But it’s the first five minutes that are the hardest. And that often ended up happening. Sometimes I was so tired that all I could manage was a sentence, but I would sit down at my desk and write that one sentence. But some days I’d tell myself all I needed to write was a sentence, and I’d end up writing three pages.

It’s just like the first five minutes of exercise, something I learned a long time ago. As long as I can drag myself to class and endure that first five minutes of the workout, and give myself permission to leave after five minutes if I want to, I will generally take the whole hour and a half class, and usually end up loving it. (There are these wonderful things called endorphins, you see, and they kick in after a certain amount of exposure to pain…)

The trick to writing, and exercise, is – it is STARTING that is hard.

I have been writing professionally for . . . well, never mind how many years. But even after all those many years—every single day, I have to trick myself into writing. I will do anything – scrub toilets, clean the cat box, do my taxes, do my mother’s taxes – rather than sit down to write. It’s absurd. I mean, what’s so hard about writing, besides everything?

But I know this just like I know it about exercise. If you can just start, and commit to just that five minutes, those five minutes will turn into ten, and those ten minutes will turn into pages, and one page a day for a year is a book.

Think about it.

Or better yet, write for five minutes, right now.

So what are other people’s resolutions? And what are your tricks for actually following through?

Happy New Year, everyone!


45 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolutions/Writing One Day at a Time

  1. Barbie

    Can I just say that out of those the *one* I have no problem with is wearing more colors? I ALWAYS wear colors. I usually top and bottom. Living in a tropical country, you'll often see me out of home in green shorts and a grey, pink, yellow, green and blue striped shirt (it's SO pretty, I promise, and it totally matches!). Or pink bermudas and a purple shirt. Or something something colorful. IF I wear one of both black, white or beige, the other WILL be colorful. Also, ALL my purses and shoes are colorful.

    I'm ALL about colors. Just wanted to say that :))))

    I'm sure you'll get down to your writing, Alex! Happy New Year!

  2. Sarah W

    As I said over at your place, five minutes I can do — and have done every evening since. Amazing how those minutes stretch until it's technically tomorrow . . .

    So I have to thank you for taking so much of the pressure off. Seriously, thanks.

    But I'm still unconvinced about the exercise thing. I'd much rather elevate my heart rate watching Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch (in that order).

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Barbie, you're my color inspiration for the year. Actually I discovered a new designer who puts all those colors together in a way that I can actually wear and it really is fun. It's true, the tropics bring out the colors; I always wear more when I'm in New Orleans or the Bahamas.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Sarah, I am thrilled that it's working for you. Such a simple concept, and so liberating.

    Team Martin, hmm? You're the practical one. Character wise, you'd get much more sex out of him, certainly.

    Speaking of which, id you get to see the new episode?

  5. Allison Davis

    Five minutes a day. My new motto. Actually, the one sentence a day you already tasked me with is working and I thank you every day I sit down to write.

    I buy 90% of my food at a weekly farmer's market five minutes from my house and it's huge. So local and seasonal. New Year's resolution is to cook more of the food I buy (guilty!!). But the guys that grow the best pomagranates also make juice out of them and all winter long, I get 16 ounces a week from them. Fabulous.

    And David will like this: more movies! I really love the movies and never go.

    Biggest resolution? More quiet time. Just sitting and listening. Letting the dust settle. Great article in last weeks NYT's by Pico Iyer that was great about needing stillness. This goes hand in hand with more walks on the beach…ten minutes from my house, I want more time there.

    New Year's resolutions are great because they are full of potential and anticipation.

  6. David Corbett

    I'm not sure that you can gain the necessary traction writing in small bits. It's true, you need to write no matter what. But I think two hours minimum, even if you have to get up with the weasels, is required to get the kind of writing done that will produce a book not just in quantity but quality.

    As for the rest, I think it all gets down to being more mindful. Pay attention — to others, yourself, your body, your food, your work. Now that's a new year's resolution I can and will get behind.

    Happy New Year, Alex. May 2012 be grander than grand.

  7. Jenni L.

    Hi Alex,

    I've been trying the 5 minutes a day, and it's going pretty well so far, except for the last 2 nights when issues with kids came up and we were running here and there, but I am going to make up for that over this weekend. It has been good because it's got me thinking creatively about how to fit the writing in, and I'm actually doing it.

    Colors are good. 🙂 Barbie, I would love to see those outfits! I grew up in the tropics and really miss those bright colors. Black seems to be the norm for the northwest.

    I joined an online writing group as part of my resolution to write more, but haven't gotten into that too far yet. I'm hoping it will be a good thing. It's strange for Seattle, but I have had a really hard time finding a writing group that isn't 30 miles away or more. I hope online is a good way to do this. I liked the personal interactions in a writing group I belonged to before.

    Thanks for the suggestions for donations. I am going to start doing Kiva for sure. I've read a lot about it previously, and it's a proven program to empower people, especially women, in lots of the places I've lived. I didn't see if they had people needing loans in the Congo/Zaire, which is where I would really love to make some sort of positive impact, but I suspect the security situation there is too risky (constant warfare, corruption, exploitation by corporate and colonial powers, overrunning of borders, no real economy). I did find some in Pakistan, which I'll contribute to. Over the years, watching places I've called home suffer catastrophe after catastrophe and being able to do little to make a difference, it's nice to find a program that I think can actually help.

  8. Reine

    Dance with every movement. Every breath. Hard to do. Doesn't feel like dance. Then it does. Gets easier. Then people happen. And things. Hard again. Keep dancing. Flow. If the only movement is in spirit.

  9. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Allison, you rock. Good for you. That one sentence will attract so many, many more.

    I LOVE pomegranate juice. POM is my weakness. Definitely easier than eating them, but eats into the wallet.

    And stillness – yeah. I've been meditating but not enough. That's one I have to go back to a five minutes a day pledge, and work my way up again. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Ugh, SORRY about Capcha. Really, it's got to go.

    Jenni, I had an online writing group that worked really well for me. I'd known them since college but I don't think you have to have that kind of familiarity, you just have to have the right mix. Smaller is better online, I think.

    Have you investigated the local RWA chapter? No matter what you write, RWA is absolutely the best about writing groups, online workshops, agent pitch days anything you could possibly need to help your writing/career to the next level.

    Kiva is great – you can really see the businesses building. It feels real.

  11. Alaina

    I want to try pomegranates. I don't think I've ever seen them sold, though. Curses.

    I do 100 words a day; I've found that, if I have time to sit at the computer at all, I can get that out. Even if I hate it. But I don't have to write if I can't have computer access. My other goals are things like moving out of the house once I can (so they stop kicking me out of my room/away from the computer when guests stay), paying off my college debt, and, apparently, trying a pomegranate.

  12. Reine

    Trying to find a better way to say that. To smooth all movement with the feeling of dancing in space. With every touch and look. With every thought and intention. Not metaphor, but real dance. With awareness and without force. Physical and spatial. Each time I am able is breathtaking, because each success is new. Emotional resistance decreases with perseverance yet without force if I am aware.

  13. Tammee

    "But fury is a wonderful motivator and at the end of the day, every day, I was so pissed off … I would make myself write five minutes a day on the novel EVERY NIGHT, just out of spite."

    Doing this now. Leave my annoying job (which I am glad to have) and then write with intentions to self-publish a YA while also working on the novel of my heart. And like you said, if I start writing, I rarely do less than tow or there pages.

    Also need to work on the color thing, but I love me some black 🙂

  14. Richard Maguire

    Thanks for the post Alexandra, and the wake-up call. I admire your dedication, working on more than one project at a time, and I'm really looking forward to reading that thriller.

    Your "5 minutes every day" has convinced me to have a shot at a second book. And David's 2 hours minimum is certainly possible. So I'll try. Not sure if the agent I had, back in the day, would be interested. But we'll see… It's description that I find difficult. But just how much dialogue can you have in a novel before the reader becomes unsettled? The only success I've had with writing was with the radio dramas. First, I see the characters, and have some idea of how the story will go. But I always hear them. And for that reason I've little patience with description, unfortunately. So maybe it's not a book I should write, but I'd like to. And living here in this village are some wonderful characters.

    Agree with you entirely on working out. I run every second day for an hour or more – except on days like this when there's two feet of snow outside and a wind howling like a banshee.

    Happy New Year, and all the best with your work.

  15. Lisa Alber

    I love this! Thank you, Alex!

    The five-minutes-a-day practise got be thinking about Malcolm Gladwell's book, THE OUTLIERS. His premise about success centers around the 10,000-hour rule: 10,000 hours of practise at whatever it is you want to do. Music, writing, computer programming, whatever. It's practise more than innate talent that gets the Yo-Yos to the Carnegies.

    Five minutes a day (that often leads to more minutes) is a good way to get those hours in.

    I admire your self-discipline when it comes to eating and exercise. And I loved your style at Bouchercon S.F.

    For resolutions, I'm stealing Laura Lippman's resolution strategy: one imperative word. For 2012, she chose "execute." I stole it and added a second imperative: "prioritize." (I'm distractible.) So, prioritize and execute. Of course, fiction will always be tops on the list everyday!

  16. Allison Davis

    Me and the weasels already get up and go to work and we come home about the time the raccoons are into my cat food. My book may suck, but it's gotta be incremental or not at all. Just don't have that luxury if I want to write every day (because then my health goes and it's back to PD's blog yesterday). It just takes a long time.

  17. Sarah W

    I DID see the first ep, thanks to a generous friend. I adored it — and without spoiling it for anyone who hasn't (which is most of the States, I suppose), it would make me happy if Molly and Lestrade went out for a cup of coffee together sometime.

    I've been Team Martin since The Office and Team Watson since well before Jude Law stepped in (although, whew, kudos there). I considered joining Team Sherlock, just for the cheekbones, but he's a bit high maintenance for me, even on screen. Though I doubt there *would* be more sex with Team Watson — just a lot of Sherlockus Interruptus.

    But I am a member of the Will See Anything With Benedict Cumberbatch in it, Because The Man is Incredibly Talented and Also That *Voice* Society (WSAWBCBTMITATVS). Care to join?

  18. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Richard, if I were you and dialogue was what came first, I'd write a first draft in mostly dialogue and then do a pass where you concentrate on what the reader is seeing and fill that in. I HAVE to write in layers, I can rarely do everything all at once on every page.

  19. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alex
    Great blog – and Happy New Year to you.

    I didn't really make any resolutions this year. Last year was a tough one on all kinds of levels and I'm just hoping for improvement, I think.

    If I'm determined to do anything, it's take small steps in the direction of happiness. Radical changes are too easily unbalanced.

  20. Alexandra Sokoloff

    From SJSchwartz, who is having the same posting problems we all are. And – he's right!


    Sorry I didn't comment earlier, but I was busy writing those first five
    minutes, for the past six hours.

    One great trick to getting started is to leave off on a section that you
    want to write. In other words, don't leave the previous day's work in an
    impossible tangle. Try to fix the tangle and leave yourself something to
    look forward to writing the next day.

    And that's the only trick I know.

  21. Karen, NZ

    Sarah, agree with you totally, and only saw the first Sherlock by chance… our wonderful library had the DVD so that was my treat before Christmas – I've definitely joined that club.

    Zoë – thanks for echoing my 'resolution' so simply and succinctly, easier to hang on to.
    It's like learning to walk again in a different way.

  22. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Tearing myself away from BC's cheekbones for a second… we don't talk enough about Lestrade. I've had a crush on Rupert Graves since Room with a View. Those Brits really know how to – everything.

  23. Teribelle

    I like clementines. But I can write most days. I don't know how many words because sometimes it is piecemeal. A little here and a little there. But I still can get some story ideas together. So despite all the problems I am having I am trying to maintain some form of writing whether its blogging or writing on the novel. Plus I am helping put together another blog for multiple blogging authors. I didnt know about the depression. It makes sense though. What do you do if you don't write anything and you have written your whole life? Particularly if a story idea is sitting there and you can't get it out. Its like a hole in your life is there and its gaping. Because you can't fill it with words. So I have to go now. Thanks guys for letting me participate in your discussions.

  24. Sarah W

    Rupert Graves . . . Why does silvery hair and brown eyes always work?

    I really do hope Lestrade and Molly go for coffee after the first ep. of this season.

  25. Susan

    I'm submitting my first novel (a mystery) to agents right now, and trying to learn as much as I can about the business side of writing. I've been wondering how you all manage to afford to go to a bunch of conferences every year(it looks like tons of fun, but a big financial sacrifice). If you don't mind to share, I'd love to know who pays for you to go to conferences now. Your publisher? How many books did you have to publish before they started to pay? Thanks very much.

  26. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Susan, when I first started my publisher paid for BEA, Book Expo America, and PLA, the library conference. Now I get paid by the conference itself if I teach a workshop, but it took me a couple of years of doing it for free before I worked myself into that position. I'll always go to a few cons, like Bouchercon, no matter what, but these days I choose to go to the ones that pay me. But you can't count on it.

  27. Pari Noskin

    I have to get through all of what I've written so far for the last 1/5 years, but I work on your same basic theory — writing daily for a few minutes or more — and it just adds up.

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