creative process, creative writing, fiction, MFA, New Year's resolution, non-fiction, stories, writer, writer's life, writing, writing advice, writing discipline, writing life, writing process, writing regimen
A brand new year and time to think about what I want to achieve as a writer in 2011. The previous New Year’s resolution was pretty clear: complete my thesis and graduate. Now I’m facing a new chapter in my life. For the first time in almost 3 years, I’m no longer on a rigorous schedule of writing, reading and researching. Although it was such an achievement to hand over my thesis of 9 short stories last December, I know the work is far from over.
Although a couple of the stories were submitted for publication, revisions are still needed on the rest, plus 3 more unfinished stories still wait to complete the collection. If I can write 9 stories in less than 3 years, you’d think the remaining work would be a cakewalk, but then, I had professors, peers and deadlines pushing me to keep it up. Once out that structure, I had this heady sense of freedom and relief, which was quickly tempered with one sobering thought: It’s all up to me now.
There’s no question as to what I want to achieve in 2011. The issue is how.
Early in my MFA program, one of my professors encouraged us to develop a writing regimen. He brought up a good point. If you create a daily writing ritual now, by graduation, it will be habit. Some writers have a regimen of writing a certain number of pages in a day or a week. Others use a minimum number of words a day. While I’ve tried to write based on page or word count, I found myself constantly checking on where I was at. My daily regimen called for a minimum of half hour of writing. Now, you may be thinking that a half hour just doesn’t seem enough, and you would be right. I’ve never been able to write for just a half hour. After a writing session, I’m always pleasantly surprised to find that I’d written for an hour or two. But it doesn’t really matter what writing regimen you use, as long as it provides you with some metric to measure your progress and more importantly, to give yourself an attainable, daily goal.
Now I realize that having a daily habit of writing is just the tip of a writer’s iceberg. Without a regular day job and graduate studies, I noticed I actually spent less time writing than when I was juggling 40 hours of work and 6 hours of school each week. In truth, the number of hours I spent going to classes, studying and writing equaled a second part-time job. A few months ago, I was in attending a seminar and one of my table-mates talked of a book he read, about star athletes and artists and what sets them apart from the rest of world. He said one difference was the amount of time devoted in training or practicing their skills. These individuals spent at least 50 hours a week working on their sport or art. While I don’t expect to devote that kind of time to writing, it did make me realize that even with all my formal training, I was subconsciously still marginalizing my writing efforts, as something I did “on the side”. It was clear that I needed to make changes to my writing paradigm. Rather than a simply creating a daily regimen, I needed to approach writing as a career rather than a hobby. The result was a new writing routine:
1) Every day, fully accept yourself as a writer, and welcome all that goes
with such a career. And let go of any preconceived notions of what a
writer should be.
2) Commit at least 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, actively pursuing
writing as a career. This may not always involve writing. It can include
the business side of writing, such as:
- Researching journals or magazines for submission opportunities
- Researching material for stories or essays
- Reading literary works and books or essays on craft
- Sending out story or article submissions or queries
3) Devote a minimum of a half- hour a day to only writing. This can include
revising, plotting, free-writing, or anything else that is the creative part
of the writing process. And if it feels like that temperamental muse is
being difficult, write anyway – even if it feels like you’re writing garbage,
it doesn’t matter. Just write.
4) Physically leave the house once a day to write or work on the business
side of writing.
5) Allow a day off from all of the above
6) Be kind to yourself if any of the above are missed. There are going to be
days when unforseen events or other priorities demand attention.
What I have come up with takes no more extra time than when going to grad school, and the minimums time requirements are purposely easy to meet and exceed. So rather than a New Year’s resolution, I have a new year’s solution.
The rest, of course, is up to me.