Heigh-Ho, January! Sane (and Fun) Writing Goals for the New Year

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

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January, although frigid and dreary, has a few compensatory gifts up its wintry sleeve that no other month can offer: a chance to rewind the clock to start, a vague idea that anything is possible, and a sense of euphoria that can only be found when the year is in its first blush. Although these feelings naturally fade as the temperature rises, you should be able to use this energy all year-long. The goals I have in mind aren’t tauntingly out of reach, nor must they be broken down into a dozen discouraging steps; they could just as easily be called Life Skills for Writers.

  • Be [reasonably] dedicated. Writers are encouraged to write. Every day. Without fail. This type of dedication will, presumably, drill discipline into your head until it is second nature, allowing you to hone your craft along the way. That sounds nice, right? Maybe. I suggest that you trust yourself; experiment with different schedules to discover the frequency demanded by your craft. If I go a few days without working, my brain gets antsy; I find it difficult to concentrate. Anything longer and I feel disengaged from myself. Yet, I never work for more than a couple of hours at a time, regularly take half days off, and occasionally splurge on slightly longer breaks This is the rhythm that works best for me. When I accepted this, and stopped giving in to self-inflicted grief, I became a better writer.
  • Know when to walk away. Accept that you cannot finish every piece that you start. If you aren’t feeling it, put it away until a time when the need to write it reasserts itself. Be okay with the thought that not every idea will come to fruition. Balls of paper are actually a sign of growth.
  • Stretch yourself. If you normally write on a laptop, switch over to a legal pad. If you like to jot ideas down on scraps of paper, try using a voice recorder instead. Move to a new writing spot (even something as basic as facing a different direction helps me). Dabble in a new genre. I’m not suggesting that you drop your favored medium and flit off on an entirely new career trajectory. It’s a fun, challenging and enlightening exercise that sharpens your skills. In this vein, I’ve written light erotica in the style of an 18th Century travelogue; I’m pondering a fantasy sketch for my next temporary tumble through the looking-glass. A new perspective is a positive step; take a chance and see what happens.
  • Learn to accept indifference. No one will ever find your job quite as interesting as you do. It’s true that passion is infectious. Many people, even strangers, are happy to listen to your heartfelt and nuanced defense of why literature and creativity matter. If you’re lucky, your friends and family are supportive of your career; they may even genuinely enjoy your writing. As for everyone else? The ones who grow bored even before the question, “So, what do you do for a living?” has passed their lips? When you giddily get carried away and trespass beyond the 2 sentence answer that social courtesy dictates, you may wonder why they become squirmy and glassy-eyed. It’s for the same reason that it’s often a chore for you to stand through the professional monologue a random accountant/lawyer/ballerina throws your way: they don’t care. And that’s okay. By all means, be an ambassador for you personal brand. Be proud of what you do; your product is a gift to the world. Learn to gracefully accept that not everyone agrees and move on to someone who does.
  • It’s okay to get bored. Sometimes, indifference is an accepted evil inflicted on you by the big, cold world [see above]. At other times, its origins can be traced to a much closer, more disturbing source: from within your own mind and heart. It’s not just writer’s block. It’s a pervasive sense of ennui-even the total absence of any urge to engage with your art. Don’t worry. There’s no need to play a dirge over your expired creativity just yet. Go ahead and fear the unknown, yell at yourself (once!)¬† if it makes you feel better but don’t give up on something that you love because you’ve hit a bump in a very long road. Expecting a lifetime of uninterrupted artistic fertility is absurd. Every writer has periods of inactivity. Learn to use them to your advantage by following some of the tips down-thread: there is no such thing as wasted time to a truly creative person.
  • Get physical. We all know that leaning over a keyboard for hours at a time is hard on the body. I’m convinced that writers mangle themselves up into knots in ways that office personnel don’t (I’ve been on that side of the fence, too). Perhaps it’s the frustration inherent to the craft or the ability we have to tune out everything extraneous that allows us to work through physical discomfort. Knowing this, we all understand how important it is to periodically stretch during a writing session. That’s not enough! Go outside. Walk. Run. Hike. Pick up an outdoor activity of some kind. Experience nature in person and not just through your studio window. Feel the breeze on your face. Smell the leaves. Get your heart pumping from moving your body and not just from plotting out a fantastic scene.
  • Play with your creativity. I’m a believer that creativity begets creativity begets creativity. You can never have too much of the stuff in your life. Let it take different forms. Open your mind to the idea that life is fill of opportunities to flex your creativity in unexpected ways. Learn a skill that you’ve always relied on others to provide. Teach yourself how to hand-craft Jazz Age cocktails or make pie crust; frame your own art or give yourself a patterned manicure; build furniture, make a kite, paint a mural on your wall. Check out Pinterest and Etsy for crafty ideas. Follow niche blogs that explore a topic that has always interested you. The bonus? Your writing process will benefit from all of this extracurricular activity.
  • Stay connected. Regularly read at least one trade magazine. Know what is going on within your industry, just as you would if you were a doctor or banker or chef. Surround yourself with a small network of writers and artists who will be there for you whether you need a critique, advice or support. Have 1 non-judgmental “regular” friend to boost you up whenever necessary-everyone needs a no-questions-asked cheerleader rooting for them.
  • Be inspired. Why did you become a writer? Chances are, part of your answer revolves around some long-dead wordsmith(s). Whose words helped bring you into the profession? Under what personal or societal conditions did they work? What did they sacrifice in order to write? When I feel hopeless about the arduousness of this crazy path, I think about all of the women before me who paved it under much harder, more restricted circumstances than I will ever know. In the face of what they accomplished, I have no choice but to hold my head high and move forward. A bit of gratitude can transform your outlook.
  • Develop two reading styles. Our artistic development relies heavily on our ability to read and think critically. It’s tempting to carry this over to everything that we come across, to the point where there is almost no such thing as pleasure reading. Unless you want to compromise¬† the pastime that made you want to write in the first place, you have to find a way to divorce the two. If you approach it deliberately, it’s really not hard. I’m not suggesting that you completely turn off your critical faculties; just keep in mind why you are reading the book in the first place-for work or fun. If it’s the latter, it’s okay to get lost in the experience.
  • Have a non-literary life. Don’t get me wrong, there is intense joy found in the writing life. I wouldn’t trade it for any amount of riches. I’m sure you wouldn’t either. However, if you are in the midst of an artistic frenzy or find yourself struggling through a daunting period, it can be difficult to remember that life demands balance.¬† Don’t let your love consume you. The simplest way to make sure it doesn’t is to have a non-literary life, not as a separate entity but as an integrated part of your routine. That sounds easy, second-nature: almost like something I shouldn’t have to tell you. Maybe I don’t. But I bet that, like me, you occasionally forget that the world doesn’t revolve around your craft. Neither should your life! Consider this a playful reminder that it is healthy and vital to have hobbies, outside interests, and social fellowship. Use the natural curiosity that is your artistic birthright to carve out a complex, multifaceted existence. One-sided people rarely make good writers.
  • What would you add?
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3 thoughts on “Heigh-Ho, January! Sane (and Fun) Writing Goals for the New Year

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