No, it’s not Groundhog Day, but each January we mechanically trot out the same tired trope: “New year, new you!”
And like clockwork, each January 1, an endless number of articles pop up around self-improvement: “How to be your best you in 2018!” or “How to have it all in the new year!”
Though one can argue that our means of marking the passage of time is a purely human construct, it is undeniable that there’s something appealing about opening up a new calendar and having that clean-slate feeling.
As a natural skeptic, I temper my expectations as to what one trip around the sun can possibly change. However, the new year does provide a vantage point to examine the year that’s passed and to plan for the year ahead. And when it comes to writing, upon closer inspection, many of us might find ourselves stuck in a rut.
Sure, I’d like to think that most of us have evolved beyond the junior-high-school age tactic of beginning a piece with “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘writing’ as….,” but undoubtedly, we’ve picked up (and retained) some bad habits along the way. Or, we’ve found what works and have stuck with it to a fault, much like blue eyeshadow from the 80s.
Perhaps a little self-reflection and change isn’t such a bad thing? Below are a handful of my writing resolutions for the new year.
Continue to build vocabulary
As a child, beyond reading books and having conversations with my parents and brother, I credit The Simpsons, in large part, for my ever-growing vocabulary. It undoubtedly taught me some quite cromulent words. (Note: Simpsons super fan here).
As an adult, these types of self-improvement tasks can often slip off the to-do list. For that reason, I subscribe to Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day emails. And I still watch The Simpsons. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to also pick up a friendly game or two of Words with Friends?
Ditch the jargon and alphabet soup (mostly)
Old habits die hard. Having spent many years living and working in Washington, DC, the “inside the Beltway” speak and associated alphabet soup of acronyms seeped into my day-to-day communications, including my writing. Now, I need to remember that not everyone innately knows what “C Street” or “K Street” or “DOE” is alluding to. Unless I’m writing for a DC-insider-type publication, I plan to be more mindful about my use of such phrasing and abbreviations.
Continue to read old standbys and also seek out new inspiration
Whether it’s a favorite reporter at The Washington Post, a blogger at Vox, or a Joan Didion novel, the types of writing we consume undoubtedly influence our own writing. In the new year, I plan to nourish my writing style by seeking out new sources of inspiration and perspective. After all, it seems there’s a new blogger out there for each day of the week, doesn’t it? It’s about time I find another favorite to add to my list.
Find time for my personal writing
You know the old adage about turning a hobby into a job? When I spend all day writing for clients, I don’t often have the energy (or inclination) to write for myself. It’s important, though, to do those things that replenish one’s soul.
Politics make my pulse race (see point two above re: the DC years), and drafting op-eds and Letters to the Editor around policy issues is something that I find deeply gratifying. I plan to do much more of it in the new year.
Now’s the time to make the most out of that blank slate.
Becky Harris Sullivan is a writer at Dragonfly Editorial.