This New Year my friends seem to be divided into two camps: those who are disporting themselves in sun-drenched paradises from La Reunion to SFX and those who are huddled around a luke-warm Lemsip, in a sea of discarded Kleenex, wondering whether subsisting on stale mince pies or watching sequels of sequels on Channel 5 is more detrimental to the health.   These polarities engender two disparate approaches to the New Year’s Resolution: the first, induced by all that vitamin D and endorphins coursing through bronzed bodies, is to take up Bikram yoga, teach yourself Mandarin, give up fags/booze/cocaine/sugar/white flour/polyunsaturated fats/petrol-powered vehicles, and write twenty pages a day culminating in a best seller by March; the second is to wash without wearing  bed-socks.
Undoubtedly, there is a happy medium somewhere between these two, especially for the writer, and the key is to be both kind to yourself and realistic about your aims. We all know that the fat-free, fag-free, kick-boxing, novel-writing can degenerate into a guilt-fuelled orgy of self-recrimination, nicotine, chocolate and Made in Chelsea by January 2nd so try setting goals you might actually achieve.
Think about why you write, what you write and, above all, how you write and allot an achievable target and a do-able time slot – don’t commit to writing at dawn for three hours if you’re a night-owl with a short attention span.  Don’t aim for a novel if you’ve never completed a short story –  an unfinished novel hangs round your neck like a guilt-inducing albatross. Decide on a really tight, really short vignette and finish it; if that works do another and another.  You may never write a novel but you will have complete pieces and you will learn your craft.
Don’t write schlock with the sole intention of making money. People who write successful pulp believe in it; L.R. James no doubt hoped to do a service to female sexuality with all that mawkish masochism; Dan Brown probably thought he was writing eloquent, original literature and trousering loads of dosh was  merely a by-product of sincere literary endeavour.   If you put months of your life into writing something you don’t believe in and it fails to make money   you’re  left with nothing; at least if you write something  good which  doesn’t sell you can hold your head high.
Don’t decide that you want to write a profound, thought-provoking, cathartic opus if your favourite writer is Fay Weldon and your idea of a stimulating evening is back-to-back re-runs of Family Guy.   Go with your flow, play to your strengths but whatever you do start writing. Remember the only thing worse than writing rubbish is writing nothing – rubbish can be improved.  Now I must get back to my novel or at least I will as soon as I manage to flick a used tissue straight into the bin without taking my eyes off the telly.
Ardella Jones
Our 2013 monthly workshops start from 5th January and our weekly courses from 15th January – see Dates & Rates