Resolutions for Writers by Cati Porter

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.

Walking Other Paths of Inspiration by Marsha Schuh

If you write, what is it that gives you ideas?

The first question most poets and writers have been asked is: “Where do you get your ideas?”

When I’m asked this, I usually answer by saying either, “ideas are everywhere,” or “I don’t know.”

Neither answer are very helpful, are they? It is a question that novice writers ponder. Even experienced writers sometimes wonder where others find their inspiration. When I listen to powerful writers read their work, the same questions scratch at my brain: “Where did that come from? How did you ever think that up?”

Consider a few possibilities.

Writers often find inspiration while walking. Several of my own poems have grown from my morning walks around Ontario.

Walking also was a favorite pastime of writers, such as: Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, and, of course, Henry David Thoreau and William Wordsworth.

Authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates and Will Self have praised the benefits of long distance walking. The exercise not only provides ideas, but also has a calming effect while at the same time stimulating the brain – both conducive to good writing. Studies have shown that walking boosts creative inspiration by as much as 60 percent.

The prolific poet Mary Oliver says, “Think for yourself. Trust your own intuition. Another’s mind isn’t walking your journey; you are.”

True, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to understand what journeys have inspired other writers? What sparks their mysterious ordering of words that are able to stir and inspire us? Each person is a storehouse of feelings, memories and ideas. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to peer into those storehouses?

Realizing this fact, I propose to interview perhaps 10 to 20 poetry and prose artists in the Inland area and combine their insights into a book, one that includes the input of several Inlandia/PoetrIE writers along with my own.

Contributors would discuss some of the things that have triggered their own creativity, perhaps offer a couple of examples from pieces they’ve written and maybe suggest prompts for other people who aspire to write.

As an example, think of Dru Sefton’s piece published on Current.org on May 30 concerning the book edited by poet Robbi Nester: “The Liberal Media Made Me Do It: Poetic Responses to NPR & PBS Stories.” It features the work of 56 poets reacting to segments and programs aired by public stations.

What a great and unexpected source of inspiration!

Elizabeth Kostova, author of novels “The Swan Thieves” and “The Historian,” finds inspiration from William Carlos Williams’ admonition, “No ideas but in things.” She writes a delightful essay on the subject in the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and the object she chooses to write about is a set of metal measuring spoons she remembers from her mother’s kitchen. Consider the possibilities in “First Objects.”

Kostova says, “For writing it seems important to me that the objects we grow up with help form our sense of the world.”

Her essay provided me with a possible prompt: Think of a few early objects you remember that were your gateways to life and learning. Write about one of them, recalling the many vivid images it stirs up in you. Allow your mind to follow the flights of fancy it takes you on.

What is it that inspires you? Since the question has been discussed by authors through the ages, one aspect that intrigues me in this project is how contributors will add to the conversation.

When I suggested the topic of inspiration to fellow Inlandia poet David Stone, he had some questions of his own: “Will the writers you interview affirm ideas from the past? Will they find major or fine points of contention/difference with earlier writers? Will they bring in ideas from unexpected fields of study?”

Here is a conversation that has the potential to enrich all of our writing lives.

Based on the number of writing books and “how to” books both online and in bookstores, I believe there would be a considerable market for such a book. What do you think? Would you like to participate?

Would you like to join our conversation? Leave a comment here on the Inlandia Literary Journeys blog.