As the year draws to a close, I want to reflect on the steps I’ve taken in my journey to become a better writer (and set some goals for next year!)

This year I wrote 7 short stories, added about 20,000 words to my primary novel (and deleted 20,000 for a net zero oops), and deep cleaned the first 50 pages of another novel. In sum, I wrote about 41,200 words!

I feel proud looking at this number, especially because as my writing has evolved, quantity often gets sacrificed for quality. Once upon a time, my strategy was to get as many words out as quickly as possible, with the intention of refining later (in middle school I went so far as to throw a dish towel over the computer screen so I couldn’t edit even if I wanted to). Now I’m a much more intentional writer.

Let’s get into some areas of growth!

1.     Making writing a priority

One of the main things that made this a successful writing year for me was the fact that I made writing a priority. I spent the summer at home instead of doing an internship; various factors went into this choice, but writing was a primary one. The free time allowed me to spend almost every day writing or otherwise working toward my goals. Once the fall semester began, I designated two hours a week to writing. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning from 8 to 9 am, I sat at my desk and wrote – and I stuck to this goal. Two hours may not seem like much, but it allowed me to keep that schedule every week until finals without feeling burnt out.

I’ve heard many people lament that inspiration can’t be penciled in between meetings; I agree with this to an extent – there are some days when I have to drag the words out. But I also believe that concrete progress on a project – even a creative one – requires discipline. Life gets too busy to wait for a creative mood to wander along, and this is especially true for me. Unless I hold myself accountable, I will always find an excuse not to write.

Another way that I made writing a priority was by shifting my mindset. I’m not a person who writes – I am a writer. The difference may seem inconsequential, but for me it made a big difference. By incorporating writing into my identity, I allowed myself to lean into its importance to my life. I allowed myself to take it seriously.

2.     Exploring literary fiction

Prior to this year, I mostly wrote genre fiction (which I still love), but in 2022 I pushed myself to write more literary fiction. I think one of the biggest motivators was my creative writing professor Camille Bordas. She is one of my favorite writers, and this year I found myself especially inspired by her style and the way she makes seemingly mundane scenarios mesmerizing. (I highly recommend her short story “One Sun Only” and her novel “How to Behave in a Crowd”).

Throughout my college career, I have become increasingly interested in short stories, and recently interested in pursuing publication. Most magazines publish literary work. I became fascinated (and frustrated) with the concept of literary fiction – what makes a story “literary”? It isn’t just the absence of genre. I asked Camille, and she replied that if there were a set of easy rules, writing wouldn’t be so difficult.

Since then, I have written a handful of short stories that I consider “literary.” I’m still trying to find the vocabulary to define what that entails, but I take it to mean that the story is searching for humanity’s pulse in one way or another – reflecting on some aspect of the human condition, no matter how big or small.  Maybe I shouldn’t get so caught up in semantics, but it’s motivating to think that with each story I write, I stumble a little closer to discovering something.

3.     Becoming an active reader

As previously mentioned, this year I have become a more intentional writer. In the past, my writing has improved mostly through osmosis – unconsciously, I’ve drawn from media I enjoy by emulating the style of my favorite authors. This year (and this resulted from my decision to identify as a writer) I made an active effort to study craft and improve my skills.

This has happened in various ways – through my creative writing group, workshop classes, a wonderful mentorship connection I made with a published author I deeply admire. I also took an online writing course by Maggie Stiefvater, one of my all-time favorite authors (maybe I should do a blog post about what I learned there!). I read several books on craft, including Geraldine Woods’s “25 Great Sentences and How They Got That Way” which inspired me to examine writing on a sentence-by-sentence level.

I also became a much more active reader. This started when I reread the Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. The writing style, characters, and general atmosphere of these novels have always been a huge inspiration. This being my fourth (!) time rereading it, I decided to study what made it so captivating to me. After finishing each of the four books in the series, I ranked my favorite scenes and analyzed what I loved about them and how I could translate the aspects I loved into my own writing.

Since then, I’ve written reviews for every book I read. I find it very helpful to reflect on what I liked, what I didn’t, how I can learn from it. It’s easy for books to blur together over the years, and I think this is also a great way to better remember the things I read. The reviews are for my own benefit, but you can find them on Goodreads if you’re interested in checking them out!

I also started being more intentional with what I read. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first person to defend the validity of so called “low-brow” fiction, but this year I picked books that I knew could teach me something (in addition to the books explicitly about craft). For example, I read poetry to study word choice and turns of phrase, and I read a book of short stories since that’s what I’ve been writing recently.

Lastly, I also discovered the joys of annotating! I am a longtime library gal, and never buy books for myself. However, this semester I bought a copy of Frankenstein for a book club with my roommates, and I had so much fun with it. Annotating helped me become a more involved reader.

4.     Shifting my goals

The last area of growth for me has been some shifting goals. I started 2022 with vague goals to finish my novel and start querying. I did not accomplish that, mostly because my priorities changed as the year progressed.

Instead, I focused a lot more on short stories. You can learn a lot from writing a novel (I have written 3), but short stories are a great source of practice, because all of the elements of a novel are compressed into a smaller scale that you can repeat anew every 4000 words. My focus on short stories led me to submit to magazines for the first time, and (after many rejections) two of my stories were accepted!

I also started reflecting on my future and decided that I want to pursue an MFA in creative writing after my undergrad! This started a new string of goals – building my portfolio, engaging with my university’s MFA program, starting the hunt for reference letters, etc.

Next, my goals for 2023!

1.     Continue scheduling designated writing time

This worked very well for me in 2022. I also want to experiment with increasing my hours per week, although I need to strike a balance that won’t result in unnecessary stress or burnout.

2.     Continue focusing on craft

I want to continue being an active reader and examining my writing word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence. After all, that’s what makes up everything else. Challenging myself to use new techniques or approaches will also push me to improve.

1.     Write things I enjoy

I stepped out of my comfort zone a lot this year – trying new genres, focusing on short stories, unexpectedly revisiting old projects. I grew a lot as a result. However, at the end of the day, I write because it’s fun. In 2023, I want to be self-indulgent. I want to abandon my fear of writing silly things. Not everything has to push me in a new direction.

Thanks for sticking around for my first blog post. I’m excited for what the next year has in store!