I always lose track of my creative work over the holidays. The culprits are obvious: Morning baking parties and afternoons spent shopping, celebratory time with family and friends and a wee bit of overindulgence in holiday good and drink. By the end of my vacation I’m aching to return to my desk. There’s just one problem. For me, jumping back into my writing practice after a few weeks away isn’t always that easy. So I wait and wait, watching the days after Christmas turn into the days before New Year’s. Finally, after the ball has dropped and the old year has come and gone, I get inspired to get busy.
January, with its chilly bright days and sense of newness, is the perfect time to reassess my writing goals and make some resolutions about what I want to accomplish in the upcoming calendar year. But rather than being too dictatorial (after all, life’s already hard enough since I’ve given up sugar and staying up late) I like to play a bit loose. I find strict dictums oppressive and personally believe that the easiest way to get derailed from the goal of “writing a book in 2013!” is to pair it with a resolution to “write every day for two hours.”
Instead, I like to work backwards. Say that goal of “writing a book in 2013!” is on the top of my list. What do I need to do to make that happen? Sure, I need to write. And it’s quite possible that it would be best if I could “write every day for two hours.” But I know myself too well – that simply isn’t going to happen, especially if there’s not a story that’s tugging at my heartstrings.
Before I can begin a book, I have to find my story. And as a nonfiction writer, what I usually need to do before I sit down to write, is research. Thus, on January 3rd you could find me at my dining room table with my computer on, surrounded by stacks of notebooks, newspaper clippings, file folders and other “stuff.”
Over the course of a long afternoon I weeded through all the ephemera (all accumulated in the past calendar year) making notes, looking things up, shooting off query emails, and making lists: Find home for essay about RL; pitch story about blueberry farm; spend one day a week at the research library.
Some might call such dalliances procrastination and they could be right. But by that evening I’d reacquainted myself with my creative self and my work in a way that’s absolutely imperative for my future writing success. I’m ready to dig into new projects and reach my writing goals.
So, before you get too lofty with those resolutions (read Anna Karenina, write a memoir, finish a novella in 2013, oh my!) try some of these simple tips guaranteed to get and keep you writing in the new year:
Take a class in person or online: I teach in the Stanford Online Writer’s Studio, at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, and at bookstores and conferences. As an educator, I can safely say that writing classes are well worth the financial investment. Sign up, shake up your routine, and get to work. You’ll be amazed by the progress you can make.
Hire a coach. Some of the most rewarding teaching relationships I have are with students who I work with one-on-one. For the student, it’s an opportunity to mimic that intense writer-editor relationship (think Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson), get individualized feedback, and ask lots of questions. If you have a specific project you’re interested in advancing this year, a coach can help.
Find a writing group. I’m always a bit jealous when other writers tell me about their writing groups. There’s nothing better than a committed cohort who is familiar with your work, able to stick by you while your project develops, and willing to provide honest critiques.
Get active on She Writes: Join groups, post status updates, join conversations, and more. No matter which time zone you write from, this supportive community of creative women will bolster you.
But remember, just like any other new year’s resolution, it’s important to be realistic about creative goal setting. Writing is part inspiration and part determination. There will be days when you just don’t feel like sitting down at your desk and other days when you simply can’t. The goal should be progress, not perfection.