Happy New (Literary) Year

Contributing writer Laura Brackin writes about the New Year and setting goals as a writer and reader!

We’ve done it!

We successfully completed another year and now we are looking at a new calendar with twelve fresh months of possibilities. This is the time when many people start to set intentions and make plans for what lies ahead; we think about what we want our lives to look like moving forward.

As readers and writers, whether or not we are professionals in these fields, we benefit from looking at ways we can get more out of these activities. There are a few strategies you can incorporate into how you envision your new literary year.

For the Reader

Are we setting reading goals? Really? What happened to reading for fun? Well, the truth is, reading can be more fun when you set a few goals. Thinking about how you read and planning accordingly gets you more involved in what you’re reading, which ultimately makes for a better experience.

First of all, it is not uncommon for readers to set a book count goal at the beginning of each year. I have a friend who set a forty-five book goal for last year and ended up reading sixty-two. I set and read a twenty-five book goal. Your number, as compared to your friends’, doesn’t matter. The thing is to make it something that is reasonable. For me, forty-five isn’t reasonable, because of all the other demands on my time; for someone else, 100 books (two per week) may be a comfortable pace. You will have to decide for yourself how many books you think will work.

While you’re thinking about your book count goal for 2018, allow for time to journal about what you’re going to be reading. This practice is one that will make this next literary year unusually fulfilling for you, if it’s not something you’ve done before. When you read, keep a notebook or journal with you specifically for the purpose of recording things you get from your book. Books inspire, they bring up memories or remind you of something you need to do. Often they will touch something in us that makes us want to try something new or may give us an idea of something we’d like to research and learn more about. A certain sentence might strike you as beautiful, meaningful, or smart, and having a journal handy will give you somewhere to jot all these things down. If you write on the books you read as you go, it will also help you when you talk to your friends (or book club or potential employer) about what you are reading.

One last thing to consider about how you look at reading in the new year is the importance of reading, even the things that you may not like as much. Now, I’m not suggesting you purposefully seek out books that you know don’t hold interest for you, or those that you suspect may be poorly written. What I mean is simply that you finish every book you start, even if it isn’t one you like. The benefit of this is that if you are journaling as mentioned above, you will find that even in the books you don’t care for so much there are talking points—things that can help you develop ways to look at literature and discuss it intelligently. If you don’t like something, reading it through will help you figure out why. Is it the way the author writes? Is it the subject matter? Is it too experimental? Are there too many clichés? Do you think something else from this same author might be better? It is not wasted time, and you will get some good insight from finishing every book you start, whether you like it or not.

For the Writer

As writers, we must also be readers. Therefore, all of the above applies to us as well. Actively reading will only help us write better. In fact, keeping up with contemporary writers and what they are doing is important to us and the things we write. We must also revisit the classics periodically to remind us of how we got to where we are today. If, as a writer, you are not reading, this must be added to your goal planning project right away.

The next simple thing to plan for is to write on a daily basis. The obvious, in-a-perfect-world way to do this is simply to schedule out time for it. Put it in your planner every day, whether you have one hour or six that you can devote to it. Of course, it’s not always possible to account for your writing time like that; in an earlier blog, I looked at ways writers can eek out some time, even just a few minutes, to get something on the page. On those days, if you only have the five minutes it takes for your coffee to brew, you can jot down a paragraph or a particularly perfect sentence that has been poking at you. The point is to keep doing it—every day. Again, you must set realistic goals with this. If you have family coming in next week, it may not be wise to schedule a couple of hours a day to write, as it’s likely you won’t have that time. Definitely don’t set yourself up for failure with this.

If you are not part of a writing group, this is something of great benefit that you can put on your weekly agenda. Find another two or three writers, whether they are friends of yours or people you haven’t met yet who are also looking for other writers to share with, and set up a meeting time and place where you can all read and critique each other’s work. It is important in these groups to be honest and kind in your critiques. Writers need to know what is working well in their craft, as well as what isn’t. To have other writers give you feedback, and for you to do the same for them, keeps everyone’s reading and writing skills sharp.

When you are sitting there with your planner or calendar in front of you, making lists and deciding what you want from this year, think about these suggestions. Goals are motivating; they are like little promises people make to themselves about the future. Be sure to set realistic ones that will keep you focused and prompt you to get involved with your reading and writing. Find a new favorite author. Finish a new manuscript.

Make 2018 the best literary year yet!

LAURA BRACKIN is a student at Sam Houston State University where she studies in the MFA program for Creative Writing, Editing, and Publishing. She works part time with the Texas Review Press and desires to work as an editor upon graduation, while also building a career as a prose writer. She lives in The Woodlands with her husband, two teenaged kids, and her English pointer.

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