Writing Resolutions

January 1st, 2008

In 2008, I will:

1. Write daily, and by that I mean seven days a week. I will take the day off only when it’s absolutely unavoidable.

2. Read widely, not just the kinds of books I write, but classics, science, history, biography, poetry, drama — remembering, as Nero Wolfe says, “The more you put into a brain, the more it can hold.”

3. Read selectively, especially when reading the kinds of books I write, looking for writers who have a lot to teach me. I can learn from most writers, but I can learn the most from a smaller number, and those are the writers I should focus on.

4. Live consciously, remembering that the world, even the things that I most dislike or that rise up and bite me (and maybe especially those things) is all material.

5. Take chances every time I write. Try to write things I haven’t written before and don’t know how to write. Take myself off the map of the familiar.

6. Avoid glibness and try instead to bring the words from the heart. Remember that clever isn’t the same thing as smart.

7. Be silent at least twenty minutes a day, whether I call it meditation or just sitting. Shut the voices up and let the broader concerns emerge. Stop being distracted by the rapids and the tributaries and find the central current.

8. Be grateful that I’m allowed to take part in this internal miracle, in which whole worlds appear inside my head, usually one vivid glimpse or one turn of phrase at a time, and I have the freedom to chase them down and try to get them on the page.

9. Be open to criticism from my circle of first readers, without getting defensive; remember, if nobody likes it, it’s just barely possible that there’s something I didn’t get on the page.

10. Write hot, edit cold: when I am writing,, have the thermostat on high; be open, fecund, and grateful for everything that comes through; rewrite only when something obviously better presents itself. When I am editing, be cold, assessing, and gimlet-eyed, willing to sacrifice even the most precious of my babies in the cause of the book’s greater good.

I could easily list ten more, but if I keep five of these, I’ll be doing all right.

12 Responses to “Writing Resolutions”

  1. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    What a great list, Tim! I’ve been working on my own list, too. One of my most challenging resolutions is to open my heart and capture my first thoughts. Then I have to be brave enough to share what I’ve written.

    So in honor of this commitment, I posted my Chapter Five on my blog today, before I could change my mind and wimp out. When I went back to re-read it and consider editing it to make it, um…more palatable, Lisa had already commented on how vivid it is. I thanked her and decided to leave it posted.

    I printed your list and will keep it close. Thanks again for continuing to be such an inspiration! Happy New Year!

  2. reality Says:

    Hi Tim,
    Great resolutions.
    One question ref: item no 6 i.e. glibness. Does my writing in the the novel I am doing for DC fall into that category.
    Be brutal.

  3. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Hi Usman,

    Let me jump in before Tim and say that I think that while your character has a glib VOICE, your writing reveals that underneath his slick exterior he has depth. I don’t think this is the same thing at all. Dilbar’s glibness (what a word!) is what makes him irresistible.

  4. Lisa Kenney Says:

    This is a terrific list. I’ve been reading resolutions other people have some up with for days, while I mull mine over and you’ve got some here that I definitely have in mind too. I admire the discipline you have and I am learning so much about what it takes to be a real novelist by observing your work habits and attitude. Thanks for being such a great example (whether you meant to be one or not)!

    Happy New Year!

  5. Dana King Says:

    Great list. I do pretty well on most of them, though I do allow myself one day off every week. I don’t have to take it, but it allows me to keep from feeling as though I’m behind when the Sole Heir has a school event, or another family or social committment intervenes.

    Numbers 2 and 3 are where I need to get better. I read a lot, but I need to broaden my horizons, especially as I struggle to find new voices for new story ideas. And I must look to read more from writers who have more to teach, even if their topics aren’t always my cup of tea.

    Thanks for the reminders, and for always being so pro-active about writing considerations. BEst of luck in 2008.

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Usman —

    I’m with Cynthia. Your narrative is first-person, in a tone of semi-cynical glibness that has served literary private eyes well ever since Dashiell Hammett. It’s especially effective because it gives the detective some emotional distance to travel when he finally (and inevitably) gets emotionally involved.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    PS — What I mean by “glib” in my own case is the temptation to be clever instead of digging more deeply. It’s too easy a gear for me to slip into, and one I have to guard against.

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Dana, Cynthia, Lisa — Glad you like the resolutions. I’m serious — I could have listed ten more that I need to try to hold myself to. These seemed the most urgent, though.

    My overall resolution is to have two series IN PRINT by the end of 2008. And to be working on the big standalone my editor at Morrow says I should be writing.

  9. Steve Wylder Says:


    I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but yours are good ones. But entering the Dickens Challenge was a resolution of sorts. It’s giving me the deadlines and the writers’ group to finish something I’ve started. And I believe I will finish it. I know what the last couple of chapters will say. It’s getting to them that will be the struggle.

  10. reality Says:

    Cynthia and Tim,
    Thanks for the reply to my question. And relieving me of the concern I had regarding the voice Dilbar had adopted.
    Tim’s list made me think about this part of my writing. I kind of like Dilbar myself, Cynthia. 🙂
    Now I am going to look up the dictionary for glib.

  11. Wendy Ledger Says:

    Thanks, Tim. This is very inspiring.

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, everybody —

    Thanks to all of you for the nice reactions, and I apologize for not having responded earlier and at greater length. I am DROWNING in work — trying to do the last 25-30,000 words of one novel in the next three weeks and about 27,000 words into another AND trying to keep up with the DC — and, on that topic, the chapter I just posted is the firstest first draft I have ever allowed out of the house, even for a short walk.

    I’m also slow in responding to your new chapters. I will, in the next day or so.

    And I’m also handling the eleven million things that need to be handled before I leave the country for six months, which happens only 19 days from now.

    So, sorry . . .

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