Friday, December 4, 2020

Planning a Brighter New Year for Your Writing Life--Are You Ready to Look Ahead?

Hard to believe, but 2020 is almost behind us.

Quite the year. If your writing has benefited from the retreat of forced isolation, you're one of the fortunate ones. Others, I know, felt too flat with exhaustion and worry to nourish any creativity.

Looking back, it took me to midsummer to regain my stride. Changes in my work life from suddenly teaching on Zoom took vast amounts of learning and preparation time I hadn't planned for. I had to revamp all my class materials--not a bad thing, in the end. But it ate into my writing time.

I had to lean heavily on my writing partner and writer's group to get started again--we were all in similar places, so we helped each other.

I also received unexpected blessings this year. A supportive agent who likes (very much!) my new work-in-progress. Great companions on the journey. Wonderful students in my online classes. Healthy deadlines to meet.

I like thinking about these blessings, as well as the kickstart the harder experiences gave me. Sometimes, when we're against the wall, we get creative. We reach into our resources and find a way we wouldn't normally consider.

Recently a new book came out by one of my past clients, singer/songwriter Christine Kane. I had the pleasure of reading and rereading early drafts, helping her with suggestions and structure. Her book is The Soul-Sourced Entrepreneur, and although it's geared towards business owners who want to do it differently--not the trad competitive life but the intuitive soul-generated one--I found it very helpful as a writer.

Christine is a well-regarded coach for business owners, and who has to be more creative than someone in business during these times? As I worked on her book, I got to test many of her coaching exercises. One I still use is her Sunday Summit, which is a weekly review and preview. How did things go? What are you proud of, pleased with, ecstatic over? What didn't go that well? What might have you done differently? Her actual questions can be downloaded from her website. Her book is irreverent and insightful, definitely worth the read, even if you are not selling anything.

I resonated with the exercises because I've always enjoyed review and preview. This year, with covid scrambling the circuits, it's kept me focused on what I am going for with my writing life.

About seven years ago, I began doing this review and preview each December, as a way to assess the year and think about the next. I take myself through two steps, which are below. They're not easy, they can take time, but they result in clearer vision and more satisfaction.

Because satisfaction is often hard to come by. We don't pause and appreciate our writing lives. My post last week was all about this.

Sometimes I have to consult my writing friends, read back in my journal, or scan past months on my calendar to remember what I did--especially this year! And dreaming about 2021 took a bit of effort and time. Mostly because I get caught in the rapid squirrel cage of just meeting current deadlines.

It's a twist on new year's resolutions. Which I rarely keep. But these writing goals, I often do.

Here are the two steps.

Annual review
List five to seven things you've accomplished, learned, or realized with your writing this year.

Categories might include:
Classes or workshops or conferences you attended and what you learned
Feedback you received
New ideas you tried
Where you got stuck or realized something important
Anything unexpected that happened with your writing
What you changed about your writing habit or writing space or your permission to take time away from family/work to write

My 2020 review:
I finished my revision of my new novel and got feedback on all chapters from my writing partner and half of the book (so far) from my writing group.
I sent the first seven chapters to my agent and she was very happy with them, eager for more.
I researched structure possibilities for three months by reading top-level literary fiction and studying it.
I revamped the two characters' backgrounds and motivations with good results.
I signed up for an online class on Scrivener and got more tools.

Now spend 5-10 minutes imagining how you'd like your writing to grow in 2021. What feels like a natural next step?

Questions you might ask yourself:
What feels stuck right now? Do you need to abandon or reinvent any part of your project? What might rejuvenate your interest?
Sometimes we get stuck because we are trying something new and we just don't have the skills yet to do it in a satisfying way. What skill(s) do you need, to take your project to the next step? Where might you get these skills?
What support would you like for your writing this year, ideally?
What changes do you need to make in your writing habit or writing space?
What's one crazy idea you'd love to try, if you had the resources (time, money, childcare, energy, skill)?

Annual preview
Write down five to seven goals for 2021. These are rough ideas, what you know now, and they can be changed as you learn more.

My 2021 goals:
Get my (new!) desktop computer working. Get help with what I can't troubleshoot.
Finish revising the remaining 16 chapters of my novel.
Workshop them with my writing group.
Rework and send to my agent.
Review her revision comments on the novel before this one. Brainstorm with my writing partner how to approach the tasks.
Read like crazy. Best of novels?
Get back into poetry for its brain-relaxing effect. Read a poem a day? Or download an app that delivers one?
Take a break while the book manuscript is with my agent and sort through my file of unfinished short stories. Maybe take a short-story class to kick start?

Obviously, some of these goals are big ones. They'll need more planning, breaking into manageable steps. I've already started with the computer issue and found two possible helpers. I've set deadlines for sending revised chapters for the rest of the novel to my writing group.

I print out these goals or assemble a collage of inspiring images and draw them in or in some way make them visible, then they go on my writing office wall. In sight, in mind.

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