Reconsider your failed New Year’s resolutions

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The word failed makes us feel like, well, failures. But reconsidering your failed New Year’s resolutions can yield some hopeful results…

By mid-February, many people have collected an assortment of failed New Year’s resolutions. Especially if those resolutions involved exercise or writing.

But instead of feeling downhearted or discouraged with yourself, take the rest of the month of February to figure out why your heartfelt plans didn’t work. And then make a new plan for moving forward.

Here are seven steps that will help you think differently about your resolutions, especially if they’re related to writing:

1-Reconsider your failed New Year’s resolutions

Were they logical, achievable and actually important to you? Maybe you didn’t follow through because the goal was something that other people — a boss, a parent, a partner — wanted you to do. Remember, you’re ultimately answerable only to yourself. If you don’t want to do something, you won’t.

(If you have a valid reason for pleasing someone else, say, a partner, then figure out what’s also in it for you — because, really, that’s the only way to motivate yourself.)

There’s no shame in tossing resolutions in the trash heap if you figure they’re really wrong-headed for you. Just go pick some better ones for the rest of the year.

2-Reflect on the benefits of your resolutions

To keep yourself motivated, you need to think of the rewards you’re going to gain as a result of all the hard work your resolution will require.

Will writing — better, faster or more easily — boost your income? Make your boss see you as invaluable? Help satisfy a long-term goal (like publishing a book)? Remove a source of stress from your life?

Focus on what you’re going to get out of the work you’re going to be putting in.

3-Figure out why the resolution didn’t work for you

Many people are way too eager and willing to describe themselves as “lazy.” After 45 years of working with writers, I can tell you this is almost never true.

If you’re not writing, even though you want to, there’s likely another reason behind the failure. For example,

  • Have you set a goal for yourself that’s too big?
  • Have you failed to find a place where you can write undisturbed?
  • Have you really identified the best time of day (for you) for writing?
  • Have you ignored ways to keep your inner editor at bay?
4-Identify some new strategies to try

Let’s say your original resolution still feels important, but you just haven’t been able to do it. In that case, my guess is that you’ve made the most common error: you’ve set goals for yourself that are way too big.

Many people I work with seem to want to begin by writing for 60 minutes a day. No! I beg you. Please don’t try that. It will only lead to failure.

Instead, I encourage you to set the embarrassingly modest goal of writing for five to 15 minutes a day. It might not sound like much, but it adds up over the week. Did you know that if you write just 250 words a day — working only on weekdays — you’ll have 65,000 words by the end of the year? That’s very close to a full-length book!

If you make your goals smaller and more reasonable, you’re much more likely to achieve them. And that achievement will make you feel terrific, thereby upping the odds that you’ll achieve them again the next day.

5-Give yourself a margin of error

You can’t, and shouldn’t, expect to hit a goal 100 percent of the time. Instead, give yourself some wiggle room. Generally, I think it’s best to try to do the activity every day, so relate your wiggle room to the amount of time you’re required to spend.

Let’s say you’ve resolved to write for 15 minutes a day, but along comes a day where that commitment feels ridiculously overwhelming. So, write for just five minutes that day. Or if you’re really in a bad state, write for just one minute. You can do that, can’t you?

I know. You’re going to tell me you can’t accomplish anything substantial in one minute. But let’s say you manage to write 25 words. Well, that’s better than zero words, isn’t it? And you’ll have stayed in touch with your writing project, too.

6-Find an accountability buddy

Writing is a lonely job. If you want to spend more time doing it, it can help a lot to have a friend in the trenches with you.

Some years ago, I wrote this newsletter with the help of a colleague. She didn’t write a single word of my column, but we met by phone each week to talk for about 10 minutes (we live in different cities) and then we’d each go write for an hour. Then we’d mark the end of the writing session with another 10-minute conversation. It was fun and supportive, and it really helped me cement my habit of writing this column with no fuss, no muss.

Find a friend who can do the same for you, or if you can’t do that, consider participating in my Get It Done group. We are 50 writers from all around the world who support and celebrate each other’s writing projects. (Next week is the deadline for applying for March 1/24 admission.)

7-Show yourself some compassion

When you fail (because we all inevitably fail at some point), ask yourself “so what?” You missed a day of your writing. So what? You failed to do the research you needed to do for today’s writing. So what?

Show yourself grace and compassion. Instead of beating yourself up, value the small wins. If you’re trying to write 15 minutes a day and logged only three minutes, appreciate the time you did devote to writing.

As Voltaire said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”


My video podcast last week addressed how to evaluate a publishing contract. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


How do you deal with your failed New Year’s resolutions? We can all learn from each other, so please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. If you comment on today’s post (or any others) by Feb. 29/24, I’ll put you in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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