Your guide to a better kind of New Year’s resolution

plans for writers

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If the recent passage of Jan. 1 has you feeling bad for not having made some writing-related new year’s resolutions, remember this: plans for writers are a far better idea… 

I no longer believe in new year’s resolutions. This discovery came over me in 2013 and, ever since, I’ve been free of the tyranny of figuring out what I want to change about myself, making lists and feeling disappointed by Jan. 15 — the point at which I had inevitably given up.

That said, I still think there is some merit in questioning our assumptions about how to approach life. And if we want to tie that questioning to the festive and mind-clearing date of January 1, so be it. Here is one assumption I’ve been thinking about lately, as a result of my daughter, Alison (pictured above).

Alison is in her last year of university and expects to graduate with her BA in May. She’s done well at school despite her learning disabilities, anxiety and the heavy genetic load of having her mother’s brain. Here’s what I mean by that: Like me, she is virtually allergic to math and science.

In high school, I passed Math 11 only by promising never to take math again. (To this day I still believe it was a trick question. Why on earth would I ever want to take math again?) In college, I still recall the two weeks of Psych 100 where we focused on brain chemistry. I remember feeling as though the class was being spoken in a foreign language. Swahili, perhaps? Or maybe Latvian. I didn’t understand a single word the professor said and contented myself with passing the class based on my stellar scores in all the other units of it.

Unlucky Alison is wired similarly. She does well in her essays but she finds science particularly daunting. Still, like all Arts students, she was required to take two science courses in order to graduate. She knocked off the first one — a course on natural disasters — with ease and dispatch two years ago. But the second one eluded her. She tried a number of new Science-credit courses and, quickly dropped each of them. They were too hard. Too confusing. The professor was unfriendly. Etc. I offered to plead to the university on her behalf to waive this requirement, given her learning disabilities, but she would not allow me to do this.

Last term, she took her almost-last chance. There were only a few remaining Science-for-Arts-students classes she hadn’t tried: nutrition and health was one of them. She started the class with high hopes but soon ran into the brick wall of a difficult professor. The professor announced that spelling would count and Alison wrote the prof an email politely explaining about her learning disability, which made correct spelling impossible. “I’ll take that into consideration,” the professor replied, opaquely. Then, a few weeks later, the prof announced that her marking method involved penalizing students for any incorrect answers on tests — a decision that sent Alison into full-fledged panic mode.

We had several difficult nights at our household — even a panic attack or two, as I recall — but Alison persisted. Prior to the final exam, she studied fulltime for the course for nine consecutive days, putting studying for other exams and all her essay-writing on hold. She wrote the exam with great nervousness and learned her final mark for the course just before Christmas: 88 per cent.

We were all ecstatic of course. But for me this result illustrates more than just a good mark. It shows the value of what psychologist Carol Dweck describes as a growth mindset over a fixed one. People in the latter camp believe their success is based on talent or innate ability. But those in the former camp — believers in growth — understand their success is based on hard work, learning, training and doggedness.

If you’re an aspiring writer who’s searching for a resolution in 2017, instead, plan to become a better writer through hard work and learning. Me? I might even resolve to learn some math…

What are your writing plans for 2017? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below.  And congratulations to Catherine W, the winner of this month’s book prize, Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis  for a Dec. 6/16 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Jan. 31/17 will be put in a draw for a copy of Authorisms, by Paul Dickson. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.

Posted January 3rd, 2017 in Power Writing

  • Catherine W

    Thanks, Daphne, both for the book (hey guys– commenting has multiple benefits!) and for the gift of release from the awful burden of the New Year’s Resolution. For 2017, I am trying hard not to commit myself to too many conferences (I’m an academic), and focus on the writing projects that came out of previous conference talks but never resulted in finished articles. I mean, what did I expect– I didn’t make the time and mental space to focus on them.

    Okay, maybe I have one teeny resolution: I have resisted writing first thing in the morning, focusing on course prep, work emails, etc. I’m going to set aside some time for writing as soon as I get up (and am properly caffeinated). I’ll start with one day a week and move to two, and see what happens.

    • Thanks, Catherine! Just be aware that being “properly caffeinated” (great expression!) might not be the best idea before writing. There’s some evidence that we’re more creative when we’re a little bit sleepy.

  • atozwriter

    Daphne–I’m so sorry that it sounds as if your daughter’s school has a passive program helping learning disabled kids–and some jerks as teachers. My daughter spent a few semesters at Mt. Holyoke, where the accessibility program is amazing–it opened my eyes about what can be done.

    Also, I want to spread the gospel about a Coursera class (free, online) that is also fabulous for those of us scared by classes/subjects that seem hard (impossible): https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn.
    Barbara Oakley is brilliant, and her approach is practical.

    I don’t do resolutions anymore. But I do think about what I’d like to happen this year. Mostly, work on more things that are fun & satisfying. Happy New Year!

    • Yes, my daughter’s school has been mediocre in terms of accommodations but she will graduate this spring and be done with it! Funny you should mention Barbara Oakley. She is a friend of mine and she interviewed me for her course! Perhaps that is how you found my website?

  • Xoab P

    I’ll be writing a master’s thesis this year, which for me is significant since I haven’t written more than a couple of pages on a subject in some years. Tips from this website are thus much appreciated! It may interest you to know that this is actually the result of a change in my life driven by several influences including the book you mentioned by Carol Dweck, Mindset, as well as the MOOC Learning How to Learn (which is where I first heard of you, Daphne!) It’s been an exciting several months of hard work and growth, and I’m looking forward to much more in the coming year and the rest of my life.

    • Good for you for tackling a Master’s degree! I’m a big believer in Carol Dweck’s theories and know that with enough hard work you will be very successful in completing your thesis.

  • Denise Bonin

    Happy New Year and thanks as always for the inspiration. Whereas, I have always loved math, writing has always been a challenge for me. At the moment it seems that it is mostly because I have too many other distractions taking up my time!
    So if you can resolve to get past your math gremlins (may, I suggest the Khan Academy), I will try and focus on my writing this year!

    • That’s a fair deal, Denise. I’ve heard very good things about the Khan Academy!

  • Pat Bowden

    The more I read, the more I am convinced that we can develop our skills in fields where we think we have no talent. It can take A LOT of time, though, as your daughter has found. Congratulations on her wonderful result!

    My own story involves motor skills. I was hopeless at ball games as a child, and hated school sports. When I was about 40 years old, I joined my husband and children in a family game of catch every Sunday afternoon. We’d stand in a circle and throw a tennis ball to each other. Whoever missed a catch or threw a poor throw had to run around the circle twice. At first, I spent more time running than catching, but as the months went by, my skill (and fitness level) improved. I’ll never be a world-class catcher, but can now see a ball coming towards me without ducking or cringing.

    • What a great story, Pat! I’m pretty hopeless at most athletics but I’m an excellent canoeist. (I was highly motivated to become one as a 16-year-old when I had the opportunity to take an interesting trip.)

  • Jeannie

    Listening to today’s “Hidden Brain” podcast during my walk offered advice for not getting “stuck” with thinking there is only one path to get out of what is thought to be the way to go: http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510308/hidden-brain

    • Thanks for the podcast recommendation. I’m always looking for new ones! (My fave, however, remains Freakonomics.)

  • sthrendyle

    Happy New Year to my favourite “coach.” I would say that I owe 90 percent of my success as a writer to my father, an elementary school principal and a very strict “grammarian” when I grew up (God, and to think I would correct people’s grammar in HS and university – what nerve!). There’s a lot to be said for rote learning. It’s as painful as hell for the most part, but often gets you to where you go to (and then you can say “never again!”). As for NY resolutions, well, I try not to get too caught up in any of that–though I probably should pay more attention to, ah, deadlines… Best of luck to all of your family in 2017!

  • Connie Manno

    It seems Alison used the tactic of deliberate practice that Angela Duckworth writes about in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, which is an inspiring read.

    • Yes! I’m a big believer in deliberate practice. I hadn’t seen it as that but you are quite right. It was!

  • Nicola Gillespie

    Congratulations to Alison! She should be immensely proud of herself for working so hard. And thank you for sharing her story of hard work and perseverance.
    I am a big fan of Carol Dweck’s work and the growth mindset. As a good example to our 5- and 7-year-old children, my husband and I try not to say we are bad at something (like math or spelling), but that we just haven’t had enough practice or worked hard enough at it yet.
    I am looking forward to your great writing tips in 2017!

    • Good for you for being aware of that and for modelling better behaviour for your own children.

  • Hi Daphne,
    Happy New Year! Kudos to Alison – indeed, there are no easy victories.
    My main goal for 2017 is to show up every single day and write. Write first daily, write more, and write faster, much faster. Next is to pitch more and submit more. Hooyah!

    • Good plan, Rohi! The idea of writing FIRST daily is a really smart one! Also, keep your writing time really close to you’re waking up time. We’re all a little bit more creative before we’ve fully woken up.

      • Thanks, Daphne.
        That’s exactly what I plan to do. I’ve stopped reading newspapers before and during breakfast. Not much worth reading anyway! {:-(

  • Jillian Olinger

    I’m going full-on, immersive experience and taking a graduate workshop in writing fiction! It’s been 8 years since I’ve been in a classroom (more like 15 years for any type of creative writing course), but I am excited to start exercising this part of my brain again!

    • Glad to hear it, Jillian. Nothing like challenging our brain cells!

  • MP UPPAL

    Hi Daphne,
    Your newsletter nudges the inner voice which remains silent till it is jolted out of passivity. Your wake up reminders are such a great read. Best Wishes for 2017!!!
    Oh yes, Alison has shades of your looks!

    • Best wishes for 2017 to you as well. I don’t see the similarity between Alison and me but I think most parents don’t. I have a friend whose son appears to be the spitting image of her yet she just doesn’t see it!

  • David Carlson

    Our local librarian friend I volunteer with on Wednesdays provided my resolution: “Go play outside!” Exclamation point required, because she was channeling my mother’s voice when I was age 10. As for learning disabilities, my current read “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness”, by Susannah Cahalan is excellent.

  • I definitely agree with your observation about the Growth Mindset. It’s quite surprising how many people don’t believe in that mindset let alone practice it. And I think part of the reason they don’t is due to fear of not succeeding. For further reading on this subject you may be interested in my blog post http://www.prosperitygenerators.com/use-failure-ensure-success/.

    • I think the reason people don’t believe it is because it’s really HARD to do!

  • Nen Huang

    Kudos to Alison! I too believe the Growth mindset, hard working, and strategical learning. Thanks to the Coursara course “Learning how to learn”, I have learnt that the unhappy feeling associated with disliked tasks can disappear when I focus on the process rather than product-the result of the task. Actually, I always enjoy the learning process and pay less attention to what I will gain from the learning. Two of my big projects in 2017 will be a holistic health workshop to my community, and another being accepted to a PhD program from University of California, Davis.

    For my workshop, I have had my outline and supporting materials. There are pieces of arrangement needed to be done with park marketing team in the near future of two months. For the PhD program, I’ve sent my application.

    Daphne, I also get known you through Barbara Oakley’s interview with you. I am thrilled to learn in the class and have chance meeting you virtually. It may be possible in person someday!

    I truly appreciate your endeavor in coaching writing.

    Gratitude!

    Nen Huang

    Sacramento, California

    • Congrats on being accepted by UC Davis. I hope we do get the chance to meet one day.