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Choosing Your Writing Word of the Year-Institute for Writers

One popular way of looking ahead to the new year and thinking about what you most want out of the year is by choosing a “writing word of the year,” a word that encapsulates what your goals for the year are into a single broad theme.

For example, if you chose “fearless” for your writing word of the year, you would create subgoals that involved testing your limits and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but if you chose “restoration,” you might choose things that helped you heal from the stress of the last few years.

In terms of work, a writing word like “restoration” might encourage you to try essay writing as you explore your emotional life more deeply, or you might want to write some how-to pieces to help others replicate your restoration journey.

Look Back to Look Forward

As with any new year theme, choosing your writing word for the new will probably start with looking closely at the previous one (and possibly even dipping into years before that). Ask yourself which areas of your life are whole and positive and which still feel unbalanced and in need of change.

Choosing Your Writing Word of the YearConsider your work life, your family life, your social life, and your inner life. When you think about each of them, consider how the examination makes you feel. When you think of your writing life, for instance, does it make you feel excited? Tired? Defeated? Blocked? Go ahead and make a list of how you react to each of these areas. Then from those lists, you will see what you need most.

For example, if your writing life reaction included the word “isolated” and your social life list included “lonely,” then maybe your writing word for 2023 could be “Connect.” And the goals that come out of the writing word “connect” would include things like finding a writing group to be part of and considering a face-to-face writing conference or writing workshop where you have the chance to connect with other writers. Looking at your past year will often show you where you feel the need for change and the type of change you need.

Brainstorm Your Writing Word (or Words)

Once you have a sense of the areas in your life that aren’t working for you, and the ways in which they’re falling short, you can brainstorm the words that come to mind as you consider these areas. For example, if you are seeing a pattern of weariness or exhaustion in your life, then words that come to mind might be “wellness” or “restoration.” But don’t be afraid to dig deeper.

Think about what might be behind the weariness. Are you taking on too much? Do you have trouble saying no? Do you find you always prioritize everyone else over yourself? In those kinds of cases, a better word for you might be “boundaries” or “self-care.” Often the perfect word doesn’t come to you immediately because the perfect word will have a slight tinge of discomfort, as it will always be about change and change can be scary. In order to have a better new year than the old year, change will always be necessary.

Even change intended to be kinder to yourself and head off burnout can force you to stand up against pressure to take on too much, and that can be uncomfortable. So don’t grab hold of the first word that comes to you unless it persists even as you dig deeper into understanding what you need for the new year.

Don’t Rush

Instead of feeling that you must find the right word immediately, go ahead and choose an array of words that feel right (or right-ish). Say you came up with wellness, restoration, boundaries, and self-care as a selection of possible writing words, but you’re not sure which one works. Go ahead and write all these possible words on sticky notes and post them around your workspace. Don’t feel like you have to settle on just one right away.

Instead, live with the group of words for a while and see how they feel as they help you shape your day. You may realize some don’t quite fit what you need most. At the same time, you may find a new word that feels even more right for the year ahead. This is a transition time when you’re trying each word on a daily basis to find the one that offers the best guidance for the year ahead. Eventually, you’ll find the word of the year that both excites and discomforts you while also suggesting a path to a happier, more successful you.

Also, sometimes there is simply no way to commit to “a word,” because you simply know there are actually two very different roads ahead and you need to travel both somehow. So you might have two words and that’s okay. So if your new year words are “Learn” and “Connect,” that would be more than fine. As you begin brainstorming positive actions for the new year you may find many of your choices actually work with both of your words and some only work with one. That’ll be fine. After all, the goal here is to have a better year, not have the best word.

If you do a web search on “word of the year,” you’ll find lots of word lists that may help you as you brainstorm what your word will be. Once you have it, look for a way to keep it in front of you. You may not want to tell other people about your word. Still, I do like to keep my word someplace close to remind me of the direction I’m wanting to go as I make my choices daily in the New Year. In fact, I like to write my word in my nicest handwriting in pretty ink colors and add stickers to the card before pinning it to my idea board that is always beside my computer in my office.

So, what’s your writing word of the year and where will it take you this year? I hope it’s somewhere fantastic.


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If your word includes the theme of improving your writing and being prepared for publication, let us help! Our one-on-one instructors are ready to help you get started with an Institute of Children’s Literature writing course!


With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.

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