Taking Stock

Jan 4, 2023 | Better Writing

The New Year is a great time to take stock of your life and your writing. Here’s how Dan Pink describes this period in his excellent book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

“The first day of the year is what social scientists call a ‘temporal landmark.’ Just as human beings rely on landmarks to navigate space—’To get to my house, turn left at the Shell station’— we also use landmarks to navigate time. Certain dates function like that Shell station. They stand out from the ceaseless and forgettable march of other days, and their prominence helps us find our way.”

I’ve been writing seriously for more than half a century. 2022 was the fiftieth anniversary of my first book. During that half century, I’ve worked to improve my writing. My targets and skills morphed as I improved and new opportunities presented themselves.

Technology has made many things easier. It’s much easier to make changes in the manuscript with word processing software. No more “whiteout.” No more wrangling with multiple sheets of carbon paper. Word count takes a simple command, not an estimate. Spelling and grammar checkers, help us improve.

The real trick to getting better is to keep at it. Write, critique, write again, critique again. Get feedback. Reflect on the feedback and what you’re learning. It’s a lifelong quest.

Questions to ask and answer

What did I do well?

What’s the best piece of writing I completed last year?

What can I do better?

How will I improve next year?

How will I know I’m improving?

Keep records

If you don’t keep records of your writing, you are likely to fool yourself. You’re likely to remember your performance, in Shakespeare’s memorable phrase, “with advantages.”

Use quantitative measures. Word count is one of the most popular. But word count alone isn’t enough. Sure, you want to write as much as you can. But you want your writing to be good, too.

Use qualitative measures. This doesn’t require anything fancy. Judge your writing on a simple scale. “Bad, OK, or excellent” will work.

Create specific development projects. You might want to master a new piece of software. You could concentrate on writing more simply. You can make a special effort to use fewer adverbs. One of the great things about writing is that you never run out of things to improve.

How will you make this next year your best writing year ever?


You can always get better.

What did you do well last year?

What’s the best piece of writing you completed last year?

What can you do better next year?

What are some possible development goals for you?

How will you know you’re getting better?

Keep good records of your performance.

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