The Geek's Guide to the Writing Life: A Challenge for 2014

01/01/2014 05:55 pm ET | Updated Mar 03, 2014

In case you haven't noticed, it's that time of year again, when the air and the internets are thick with talk of resolutions. As I've grown older and withered under the weight of many a lengthy to do list, I've tried to simplify my resolutions, culling them down to just one or two. I'm not even sure I made one last year. This year's resolution isn't even necessarily writing-related; it's to listen to my instincts more. Suffice it to say that a few personal events of the last few years have revealed that failing to heed that tiny voice in my head whispering "something's not right here" can have some devastating consequences. But we've probably all been there and the less said about that the better.

I thought this might be a good time to talk about writer's resolutions so I set about investigating the kinds of resolutions writers have been making all over the internet: resolutions to finish a book, or achieve a certain number of publications, or even win a prize. All worthy goals and similar to many I have set and often achieved over the years. Still, in the process of my research, I reached the same conclusion that I have with my own resolutions: Simple is best. So I was struck when I read this social media post by a former writing student of mine, Laura Ward:

"You guys. I kept my resolution for 2013. I wrote (almost, but sadly not quite) every day this year. Yes, I missed a few days but I wrote more this year than I have in my entire life!"

Some background here: Laura was an undergraduate writing major at the University of Central Arkansas where I teach, struggling with the same things that face most of us writing geeks. She had recently graduated from a program where she had been working to deadlines, and like anyone who graduates from an undergraduate or an MFA program or even a writing class, found that suddenly those deadlines had evaporated. Meanwhile the real world had stepped in with deadlines of its own: finding a job in an exceptionally challenging market, setting up a household, finding time for family and friends.

Unfortunately, this is often the moment when the writing evaporates too. Sans deadlines, or publications, sans a community of other writers spurring us on, we sometimes stop writing.

Fortunately, Laura saw the path these other deadlines were leading her down and she knew she had to take action. So she set a simple goal for herself in 2013. "Write Every Day."

Notice she didn't say, "Write like Toni Morrison or Charles Bukowski or insertnameoffamouswriter here." Just "Write Every Day." She explains: "I'm rather proud that I kept this up for a whole year ... It gives me hope that I really am meant to be a writer. Nothing I wrote this year may be worth anything but at least I tried. I don't know if I accomplished anything of significance. I did fill up five journals and a lot of word documents on my computer. It was an adventure, a challenge, and a soul baring experience ... I hope to let this experience continue into 2014. Maybe I'll find my masterpiece in the coming year."

Five journals and a lot of word documents. On top of what I happen to know is a demanding full-time job, I'd say that is a real accomplishment. What's most important, however, is that Laura proved something to herself. That she IS meant to be a writer. A writing geek. Someone who writes. She may well find her masterpiece in the coming year or years. Regardless, she has taken the first step on a journey that will continue. She has claimed her identity as a writer, something that is important for all of us writing geeks to do in a world that doesn't always necessarily value what we write or even that we write. It's far from easy but it is simple and it is straightforward and it is something I wish for myself as much as I wish it for you.

Give it a try. Make it a goal to write every day (or almost every day or at least on a regular basis) in 2014. Write when it's early, write when it's late, write during your lunch hour, or your train commute, write whenever it suits you, for 30 minutes, 60 minutes or four hours at a time. Consider it a gift you are giving yourself, a gift you richly deserve because as a writer, you are one of those people upon whom, as Henry James once famously said, nothing is lost. This kind of consciousness is a heavy burden to bear, a burden that must be unraveled and reknit over and over again as you make meaning of this beautiful, insane world through words.

So write on, writing geeks. And another challenge, if you feel so called: report back to me throughout or at the end of 2014 at to let me know how it's going or how it went.