Here we are at the end of December and once again we are about to turn the corner into a new year. Many of us see this as a fresh start and set goals for ourselves for the following year. For writers, often this means setting out to finally write that memoir or that novel. To accomplish this, I recommend setting small daily goals. By breaking it up into bite size pieces, the project will be much easier to digest.
To forge a writing practice for ourselves, it is best for writers to carve out a few minutes from every day. If you’re a poet, this might mean writing a few lines of verse or even the first draft of a whole poem. If you write fiction, opt to write a paragraph or two. If your aim is to write the Great American Novel, this allows you to chip away at it slowly but steadily. Incremental goals are much easier to keep. And if on any given day you happen to have more time once the ball gets rolling, you can stay with it, but if not, you’ve at least met your goal for the day. Setting a timer helps.
For my part, early mornings—prime time for writing, where I wake long before my kids—are usually spent frittered away with a cup of coffee or three and surfing the net. What else could I be using that time for? So here is my resolution: I will write just fifteen minutes a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but if I keep it up then I will have written for 5,460 minutes by the end of the year. This morning, those fifteen minutes have netted me about three hundred words. If I were to do this every day, by the time the next new year comes around, I will have written over 100,000 words. And, voila! The Great American Novel—Round One. Sure, there will be false starts. Sure, there will be days when I flake out. But should I fall off the wagon, I’ll just hop back on and start again the next day. Or the next.
Like any goal, it is more easily met with the support of a routine, good friends, and maybe some prompting. To begin:
First, decide on a routine that suits you—writing in the morning, on the lunch hour, at night. You may need to try different times to figure out what works best.
Second, decide how you’d like to write. If you prefer to write longhand, you could treat yourself to a nice writing journal, but a yellow legal pad works just fine too, or you could be like Emily Dickinson and write on scraps of old envelopes or whatever is handy. You can even write using your phone. I have written using the notepad app on my iPhone, or sometimes directly into emails to myself.
Third, If you miss writing one morning, don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you’ve blown it for the day—even if you write at a different time, or for fewer minutes than you planned, at least you wrote! Allow yourself some latitude.
And if you’re looking for inspiration, here are a few places to start. Two of the leading magazines for writers, Poets & Writers Magazine and Writer’s Digest, both have pages with free writing prompts on the web:
– Poets & Writers Magazine “The Time Is Now”: http://www.pw.org/writing-prompts-exercises.
– Writer’s Digest Creative Writing Prompts page has new suggestions about once per week from the silly to serious: http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts.
Poets & Writers also has a page listing the Best Books for Writers: http://www.pw.org/best-books-for-writers with everything from poetry craft books to writing nonfiction to how to publish your memoir to Virginia Woolf’s writer’s diary to issues of copyright and other practical things. Some books that I have personally found useful: Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, John Drury’s Creating Poetry, and Finding What You Didn’t Lose by John Fox.
And it helps to have the support of like-minded writers. Being a part of a writing group is a great first step. Finding one can be a challenge, but there are many ways to go about this. First, look to your friends. You’d be surprised at how many people write. Also, you can look to the web—just type in “how to find a writing group” in the search bar. Or you could join one of Inlandia’s free writing workshops, which is a slightly more structured form of writers group, offering critique and craft tips in addition to the support of other writers, plus opportunities for publication and publicly sharing your work. With workshops in six different locations throughout the Inland Empire, there’s bound to be one near you.
Whatever you decide, if you begin the new year with some reasonable yet flexible goals in mind, by this time next year, you’ll have a brand new body of work to be proud of. I’m with you. Let’s go.
For more information about Inlandia’s writing workshops, please visit www.inlandiajournal.org/workshop.