First of all, Happy New Year and grateful thanks to everyone - writers and readers - who reads the blog, and a special lift of the Champagne glass (all right, Prosecco glass - we're on a writer's budget, here) to anyone who comments, spreads the word or links to the blog from elsewhere. Without you all, there wouldn't be a blog, because why would I talk, if I didn't have someone to talk to?
I don't really do New Year's Resolutions, because they bring out my Inner Stroppy Toddler. But this is, let's (two-)face it, the Janus time of the year: we look both backwards to what we've done, and forwards to what we'd like to do. And so here are some ideas which might mean that, this time next year, you can look back and see how as a writer or would-be writer, things for you and in you have changed.
Write something. It's all too easy to wait till the day job eases off, the children are in bed, the computer is working better, you've stopped trying to do Dry January, and you're on that retreat or have spent money on that course. Trust me: as with everything else worth doing, there is never a "good time" (and, indeed, many people find that setting up that "good" time is an unhelpful pressure in itself.) In the end, there is only the time you can make by choosing to push something else lower in your priorities, and putting writing in its place.
Walk up a hill every day. As writers we tend to worry more about saggy middles in our books than in ourselves, but we sure as hell should worry about keeping our brain's blood-vessels clear and our synapses snapping. And that means doing things to get the heart-rate up and the blood moving, for at least half an hour, at least five times a week. Your reward is that every now and again the story-idea of the century, or the perfect phrase, will float up as if by magic: use the record function on your phone to make an oral note, rather than drop the pace to scribble.
Write something every day. Shopping lists and To Do lists don't count, but it doesn't have to be the big, current project. As I discovered last year, 20 minutes scribbling almost entirely pointless mini-stories wasn't pointless at all. And not only because five months later I found I had inadvertently rough-first-drafted a third of a novel. Even ten minutes a day could mean that this time next year you have the crazy-first-draft of a book.
Make mistakes. Grayson Perry, indeed, says that creativity is mistakes. Neil Gaiman says, in one of his always-wise New Year messages, mistakes show that you're doing new things. And, by definition, you're not creating anything - hell, you're not living - if you don't do new t,hings. It's all about what Ray Bradbury says in that post: "Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come."
Make peace with your mistakes: that they happened, that you learnt from them, that you didn't learn from them and so made them all over again. Remember that nothing you write is ever wasted so, actually, there's no such thing as a mistake in writing, only process-writing on the way to getting it right.
Practice writing the same thing a dozen ways, however long it takes and how unsuccessful some are. You could take Raymond Queaneau's Exercises in Style as an exemplar, or my post on different versions of a sentence, but however you tackle it, it's writerly yoga like nothing else, so your writerly muscles are fit and flexible when you come to the thing you really want to write, and make perfect.
Pick up the bad book you've just read (or the one you've tossed aside with fury and contempt) and decide to treat it as a good book. Think about why a publisher believed it was good enough - which enough readers would like, and talk about liking - to gamble £50-£100,000 on publishing it. Then do the same with the next bad book that everyone seems, incomprehensibly, to be raving about.
If you dream of writing for a living, think about what shape of working life is most likely to work for you. What kind of practical, financial and personal things might you set in motion to help make it possible, if you do manage to get that first contract? And what would make it sustainable while you're trying to get the next one?
Do what you most resist doing. As with murdering your darlings, the fierceness of your resistance is the clue: whether it's about subjects, themes, writing process, characters, voice or settings, there's something here which half your creative self is saying you need to do, but the other half shies away from. If necessary, create a standalone story, project, scene or exercise to try it out: at the very least work on a new copy of the file.
Make your peace with what you don't do, whether it's other kinds of writing, or other reading or some other possibility you're not "making the most of". Life is short, libraries are large, the world is larger still, and none of us is Proust or Aphra Behn. The flip side of recognising that you're resisting something which will enrich your writing is understanding that what you'd like to do, or someone says you should do, you actually shouldn't: it will waste your energy or your money, mean you never really finish a project, or become a jack-of-all-apprenticeships and master of none.
And, finally, you know these two, but it's never a bad thing to remind ourselves: