Basically, before moving forward, you need to know where you are now.
Taking a personal inventory is helpful for more than just skill development. Examining our minds and hearts is just as important as examining our habits—in fact, our habits express what goes on inside of us. But in terms of setting realistic goals for ourselves in a new year, it’s a good idea to step back and think about where we stand right now.
Many writers decide that this is going to be the year they complete their first book. Or publish their first book. Or market their existing books.
Many non-writers decide that this is going to be the year they get off social media. Or start an exercise routine. Or look for a new job.
Regardless of whether you fit under the writer or non-writer category, you probably have some skill you either want to develop or improve this year—or perhaps even something you simply want to do more consistently.
I’m in no position to advise you over which new skills you need or which existing ones need honing. Everyone’s life requires different things and presents different opportunities.
The way in which I saw this tested most was the intense amount of learning that went into publishing my first children’s book, The Misadventures of Melvin the Missing Sock. Aside from the grind of revision, storyboarding, and manuscript preparation, I also had to learn how to make this book available to the rest of the world. This meant digging into some more technical aspects of the modern-day author’s life. Not only are authors expected to write their books, but we have to create the marketing and distribution plans as well. For someone like me, who frankly loathes staring at a screen and wrangling technology, this was a real challenge. I also had to find the most cost-effective way of shipping my books, which took some number-crunching and out-of-the-box thinking. Did I enjoy the process? Not always. But having gone through it successfully has given me greater confidence in my ability to solve problems and untangle knots.
An author should always involve other people in their work, but there are several skills that are handy to have on your own. For instance, I have never been fantastic at bringing words to life through physical pictures. Translating images into words is my forte, not vice versa. This means that I relied heavily on others’ visual imaginations for the creation of the storyboard for my first children’s book. Thankfully, as I worked through the same process for Bertrand the Bashful Bumblebee, I found my mind’s eye keeping up with the words. Although I solicited the help of my spunky creative team, my own visual imagination was actively working much more this time around than it had with my first children’s book. A large part of that was no doubt influenced by a familiarity with my illustrator’s style, which helped me predict how she might work with the scenes in the story. But overall, I found the storyboarding process less stressful and more fun this time, as my creative skills flexed and grew.
The skill of focusing is severely underrated in our world. We pride ourselves on multi-tasking. We embrace the constant interruption of electronics or the newest train of thought that offers a distraction. I didn’t realize how detrimental this rhythm of life is until I noticed myself struggling to remember things that I used to never struggle with. My short-term memory and attention span has grown alarmingly brief, which causes all sorts of problems in productivity and creativity. Although focusing is not a new skill, I feel that I have had to re-learn it all over again. Putting my phone out of sight and listening to music without ads while writing has helped. So has limiting the number of times I check emails and other notifications each day. Still, it is an uphill battle, as I fear it is for many.
It’s hard to market effectively unless
a) you know what works (which requires research)
b) you have a plan
c) you do it consistently.
This is perhaps the facet of my writing career that needs the most work. If I could simply write my books, I feel I could focus much more and create much more. But alas, the burden (and opportunity) of the modern-day author is that promotion rests on his/her shoulders. I am learning, but the learning process has gone slowly. What with a full-time job and other obligations, I often let either my writing or my marketing fall by the wayside while I devote time to the other. It is an unfortunate trade-off that I don’t know how to avoid, but I trust that it will even out with time as my books gain traction and I gain experience in marketing them. One of my favorite bloggers, New Lune, has written a stellar article on the struggles of consistent marketing/writing, which I encourage you to read if any of this sounds familiar.
What are some new skills you have set out to develop this year?
What are some existing ones you need to sharpen?