The Year of the Writer (redux)

December 31, 2020 § 27 Comments

Next year definitely the Pulitzer longlist…

How was 2017 2020? Yeah, this post I wrote three years ago is STILL ASTOUNDINGLY RELEVANT. You know that feeling of low-grade background stress you’ve sustained for nearly four years, ramping up a level each year? You’re not alone, fellow writer.

So 2020 was a dumpster on fire while swept away in a flood, yes, but how was your writing? Because now is a great time to consider what you did. Not scold yourself for what you meant to do and couldn’t. Let’s genuinely take a moment and sit with your accomplishments, together.

Did you write an essay or a paragraph or a sentence you’re really proud of?

Get a piece accepted? Submit to places you want to be accepted?

Help another writer with insight or feedback or supportive critique?

Make it to an online workshop or reading or write-in?

Read a book you really loved? Or one that taught you something about writing? Tried some exercises? Researched something new?

They all count.

Bask in the feeling of accomplishment. If you’re a journal-keeper, make some notes about what felt great to get done, and why it worked to do it that way. Congratulations!

When you’re done, look ahead. Sure, a year is an arbitrary designation–maybe you operate on some sort of fiscal year, or you’re still a fan of the Julian calendar, or your new year starts February 12th. But it’s a good time to reassess, because other writers are happy to talk about goals right now, and gorgeous new notebooks and diaries deck your local independent bookstore (who likely offer curbside pick-up).

Make a little list–not too many things or it just gets overwhelming–of your writing plans. Think about the classic “SMART” goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely.

  • Specific like “I want to be published in Brevity” (and we hope you do) rather than “I want to be a published author” which is a bit wide-open.
  • That one’s Measurable–this time next year, either you did or you didn’t, or maybe you got a different venue for your essay and we lost out.
  • Attainable is also key. I’m not aiming for the Nobel Prize quite yet, plus I think someone Swedish has to nominate me. Maybe start with “meet more Swedes.”
  • And really, winning a Nobel isn’t especially Relevant to what I want to be writing.
  • Timely can be a deadline, or a number or pattern of attempts (10 tries, quarterly submissions, etc), so the goal starts with an action you can take.

Here’s what I’m thinking about:

What kind of writer do you want to be? I want to finish a novel, because I care about writing YA, and I think it looks better to give writing advice when I’m walking the walk. You?

Do you need help to be this kind of writer?  I need to locate a couple of beta readers who haven’t read the previous incarnations so they can come in fresh. What help do you need?

What big project do you want to finish? That book, and to host a writing retreat in Costa Rica or Italy, both delayed from last year. How are you going to do that? They’re both check-off-able tasks: chapter by chapter, email by email–“write a book” would be as nebulous and difficult as “lead a retreat.” One project is creative and the other’s business, but I’ll approach both with a defined process. And allow myself grace when elements I can’t control hinder my progress. What’s your big project?

What do you want to read? More “challenging” books and less comfort re-reads. How can you make that happen? Order Hilary Mantel’s latest and dive in! What can you not wait to read?

What do you want to stop doing? What’s occupying time you’d rather have for something else? I’d like to spend a little less phone-on-sofa time. You?

It’s an effort to pull out only the most important from the giant pile of “things I’d love to do” in our brains. It’s hard to look at the amount of time relative to the things that fill it, and be honest about what we can actually accomplish. Like tapas or sushi: order all at once, and you’re likely to have more food than anyone can finish. But grab the thing you love best first, enjoy it, and then order the next thing you have room for, and the next. One dish at a time. One step on a goal. And no, you do not have to order vegetables first. Choose the goal you love the most, not the obligation.

Got any questions you’re mulling over for 2021’s writing year? Ask us what you’re asking yourself. Tell us what you did–and what you’re going to do next.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Manager. January 22nd, she’ll be leading the webinar This Year You’ll Finish Your Book: Goal-Setting and Project-Planning for Writers. It’s a steal at $25–sign up here!

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§ 27 Responses to The Year of the Writer (redux)

  • Allison, your posts and webinars always inspire and motivate me to keep going. I like a gentle nudge, but sometimes I need a bigger push to stay on track. Your words provide both. Thank you. I’m looking forward to the webinar on the 22nd.

  • Rick Brown says:

    “Meet more Swedes”: a worthy resolution if ever there was one.

  • Love this, Allison! This is exactly what I do. I take an inventory of what I’ve accomplished — especially new venues where I’ve published work for the first time (and then I set realistic goals for the coming year). And it happens to be the main thing I accomplished this year was to publish work in a new venue, which just happens to be the Brevity Nonfiction Blog! I log all of this each year in a blog post I call “The Year In Writing” (except this year I called it “The Year in Writing … and Surviving,” for obvious reasons):

  • Kristen Paulson-Nguyen says:

    This year I will publish in River Teeth’s Beautiful Things! Ok, that’s all I have right now. But it’s enough for the moment. 🙂

  • Reblogged this on musingswithoutamuse and commented:
    Something very useful for all writers

  • We write our thoughts. Thoughts that people don’t want to understand when they speak. Some will understand, some will not. But Google will remember …

  • bearcee says:

    A great way to end the year, Allison—and look ahead to a better 2021. I’ve enjoyed and learned (not mutually exclusive!) so much from your columns this year and from your Bridge webinars. This year I got published in Brevity and completed my third year writing a bi-weekly column for Spectrum Magazine. Onward!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      That sounds like a pretty awesome year! I’m so glad to be a part of your writing world – happy new year!

  • The hard way is the only way to survive victory comes from God alone

  • santaadevi says:

    Very good article…..

  • Thanks Allison! Last year I did not do as much as I planned but you’ve helped me to put tin perspective. I did as much as I could.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      That’s all we can ask of ourselves – it was a year with enormous emotional burdens, especially for women and BIPOC. Accomplishing artistic pursuits was icing. ❤

  • martha mclaughlin says:

    Such a great post. Thank you, Allison!
    Happy new year 💗

  • Polly Hansen says:

    I have spent the year doggedly working on my memoir. I recently paid a hefty fee for an in-depth edit from Tim Storm, writing coach at It was worth every penny. And now I shall spend the next year, or however long it takes, incorporating his comments and cleaning it up and tightening the through-story. Sometimes I lose hope. I think, why am I doing this? Why am I dredging through the painful past to tell this story no one but a few people may read? The answer is always because you are giving this child, this teen the voice she did not have back then, and she needs to speak. And so I plod on, praying for the patience to accept the process, a slow, but determined slog. When I die, I will have a book, if self-publishing is my path, that will say, this was me, this was who I was, and this is who I am.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      That’s a beautiful mission – and so valuable to keep coming back to as you soldier on! And I’m so glad you had a great and helpful edit!

  • I experimented and dabbled in this and that in 2020–maybe because it was a tough year to focus. This fiction writer even closed out the year with a published essay, which was sorta new for me. I do intend to focus on one big project this year–a historical novel in progress–and treat it as my number one priority. Even before paying writing gigs, which is new for me! Thanks, Allison, for your always inspirational posts and advice!

    • Allison K Williams says:

      You are so welcome – that sounds like a great way to handle what you could last year, and I’m excited about your year to come!!

  • Thank you for this. My year will start March 5 when I will be officially retired from my day job. I’ll bookmark this essay so I’ll have no excuses 🙂

  • Margaret says:

    I was feeling pretty low about my writing achievements last year until I read this post, so thank you for your wonderful inspiring words and the way you gently (and sometimes not so gently) give us a little shove in the right direction.
    On reflection, I actually did quite a lot. I mades some great new writing friends and wrote more frequently and honestly on my blog. I also changed my social media tags and called myself a writer. That was quite a big thing for me.

  • […] From Allison K. Williams: The Year of the Writer  […]

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