Friday, November 6, 2015

Three Tricks to Keep Your Book Warm (or Even Hot) This Winter

Here in New England of the U.S., we're getting dire news.  Winter is going to be long and intense again, like last year.   After the holidays, we may be socked in for a while, if the predictions are correct.  I'm hoping they're not, but I'm also hedging my bets.

I want to keep my book cooking--even hot--despite frightful weather outside.  Three motivation tricks I've practiced these past winters, shared below, really work for me.  Maybe they'll inspire you too.

Winter is a great time to get a lot of writing done.  Last week, an agent mentioned how she often gets her best submissions in May.  She calculates that they come about six months after Nanowrimo (National Novel Writers Month) each November.   Writers party in December but get back to work in January and February.  Being forced to stay indoors helps them revise drafts.  They take advantage of wintertime.

But here's the key:  Many writers I know set their winter writing plans now, because they want something ready to go when the holidays wind down. 

It's a good idea.  It has helped me stay on track with my writing goals.  Here are the three plans I use.

1.  Retreat for one week each winter, to focus on writing.

Each winter, I plan a one-week get away to foster my creativity.  I choose January or February, the hardest winter months.  After the holidays are over, I need something to help me face the long stretch of winter is ahead. 

In November, I begin exploring possibilities.  Do I want to take a workshop this year?  Do I need dedicated writing time without interruptions? 

Whatever I choose, there also has to be:  (1) warm location, with (2) lots of sunshine, and (3) great food.   I also need (4) support and learning something new.  I've tried soloing it for a week, alone.  I usually crash and burn without some support, community, or daily check ins. 

You know yourself best--what do you need most?

I realize this requires thinking ahead.  Which stymies many of us, who have busy lives and can barely think one day at a time.  But it will pay you back, I promise.  Do it now. 

To help you out:  If you want to work on your book with me, either via a retreat workshop or an independent study this winter, consider checking out my new winter retreat for writers at beautiful Tanque Verde dude ranch in Tucson, Arizona.  From January 18 to 22, I'll be gathering with 15 writers to enjoy sunshine, trail rides, desert hikes, swimming, and plenty of writing time.  My workshop is already packed with new writing prompts, craft lessons, and organization systems that can help you get your book going again.   Here's more information. 

2.  Take a class.

Aside from my week retreat, I like to have weekly accountability in winter.  I need something regular to keep the motivation high.  I use Nanowrimo (National Novel Writers Month) in November, I allow myself a holiday break in December, but in January I need a class.  Something to help me manifest those new year's resolutions for my book. 

Because I live in snow territory, online writing classes work well for me in winter.  I have taken classes with six different online schools in the U.S., trying out different instructors and learning platforms.  In the best classes, I get top-level feedback, intriguing assignments, a place to share my writing with other writers, and the possibility of a feedback group when it's all over.

On this last benefit:  Over the weeks of the class, I watch how different writers in the class respond, how much I enjoy their writing, and whether I'd like to partner with them for more feedback.  This past year, I've gotten lucky: From the four online classes I took in 2015, I partnered with six other writers at my skill level.  We arranged different exchange schedules--a few every month, a few every two weeks, one for whole manuscript reads.  A very valuable side benefit of online classes. 

After testing out classes by many schools, hands down the best are those offered by the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.  The Loft is the oldest nonprofit writing school in the U.S., they have a rigorous acceptance program for instructors, and they use a good learning platform.  I enjoy taking and teaching classes there.  Check out their catalog here.   

3.  Daily accountability.

My personal conundrum--and what stalls my writing the most--is that I love my work.  I teach online, I coach writers privately, and most winters I am working weekly with up to 60 writers at all stages of book writing.  No complaints there--that's the fun of my job.

But there is a down side, and many writing teachers know this well.  We can become so immersed in our students' stories, we talk ourselves into putting our own writing second.  End of the day, after the paid work is done, we try to engage with our own projects.   

More evenings than not, I have no energy for my own writing.  But how can I teach well, if I'm not writing?  So I make it a priority to be accountable to my own book first.

I set up a system before each semester starts:  not just my monthly deadlines with feedback partners or weekly assignments for classes I'm taking, but a way to check in with myself every day.

My system uses two methods:

*  I always work on my own writing before I do any paid work.  This usually means I have to get on my laptop first thing in the morning, before I scan my email.  (Or, if needed, I've trained myself to scan my email on my phone and see if there are any major problems to address right away.  Then turn the phone off.)  I sit down and open the chapter I've been working on in Scrivener and I write for at least an hour before I attend to the teaching that day.

*  I love the accountability of Nanowrimo right now (are you signed up? it's free!) because you enter your word count at the end of each day.  When I'm not being a wrimo, I use Jerry Seinfeld's system.  You can read about it here.

Your Weekly Writing Exercise
1.  Spend some time now, before the holiday chaos begins, thinking about your new year resolutions with your writing.  What do you want to do, come January?  If you think that's wayyyy too far in the future, think again.  November and December pass in a flash. 

2.  Consider one of the options above, or all three.  What might fit for you, right now, with your book?  What do you need most? 

3.  Take action.  Make one small step toward your winter writing life.

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