Friday, January 14, 2022

Tricks to Keep Your Writing Hot Even When, Baby, It's COLD Outside

I live in northern New England of the U.S., and winter is a fact of life. My neighbors are in their late seventies and they have lived here for seven generations and they love winter. Why live anywhere else, they ask, even as they shovel out their cars after another ice storm. The woman of the couple is an artist and she loves winter because she can hunker down in her studio. Winter is her best excuse for creating without any guilt or interruption.

I love winter too, for the same reason. The garden is frozen under its snow blanket, the pups sleep by the fireplace, and I can circle around my laptop and get lost for hours.

This week I want to share three tricks I've practiced these past winters that motivate me to keep my writing practice hot when it's cold outside. Maybe they'll inspire you too.

An agent once mentioned that she often gets her best submissions in May. She calculates that they come about six months after Nanowrimo (National Novel Writers Month) which happens each November. Writers 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 can "get away" at home or I take a trip--depending on what's happening in the world and my life. January or February are the hardest winter months where I live but March is the dreariest. Before the new year, I begin exploring possibilities. Do I want to take a weeklong workshop online and allocate daily retreat time that way? Do I need to actually get away to my studio outside the house? What would give me writing time without interruptions?

I know I need support when learning something new. I've tried soloing it for a week alone and I usually crash and burn without some support, community, or daily check ins.

A retreat requires thinking ahead. If your life is already chaotic, just that will stymie the process. But a retreat of some sort, whatever fits your life, will pay you back in more energized writing all year.

2. Take a weekly class.

If you can't manage a weeklong retreat, find weekly accountability via an online writing class. Two of my favorite schools are Grub Street in Boston ( and The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis ( If you are an online class regular, try different instructors and learning platforms. Go for feedback instead of just listening. Take a class outside of your genre just to kickstart a new kind of creativity. (I once took a screenwriting class and learned tons of tools which I could later use for my novel.)

In the best classes, you not only get feedback, intriguing assignments, and a place to share writing with other writers, but you might also find a possible feedback group from like-minded classmates.

3. Find daily accountability.

I'm a new convert to the Monk Manual, a different kind of planner that fosters daily accountability. I'm testing it out this year to see if it works for keeping my writing practice going. So far, so good.

Where do you find daily accountability for your writing practice? Or if you don't write every day, how do you keep yourself going with regular writing sessions?

One of my students joined a 5:00 a.m. Facebook group that encouraged checkins every day, just to say "I'm writing." Two of my past students became weekly accountability partners after a retreat they both attended in Tucson. They checked in by email to report their writing accomplishments and both made tremendous progress on their books. No one shared writing--it wasn't for feedback that they kept connected. They just needed to know someone cared.

When I was teaching full-time and had little energy left over for my own writing, I set up a system before each semester started. It was pretty simple.

I always worked on my own writing before I started any paid work that day. It usually meant getting on the laptop first thing in the morning, before puppies or family wake up. I trained myself to scan my email on my phone and see if any major problems needed addressing right away. Then I turned the phone off before I sat to my current chapter.

With the Monk Manual, I can track my writing productivity by the day, but I also track my creative process--what I'm learning, feeling, exploring. Some days there's more of that than pages produced, other days it's the opposite. I love having a way to see how they work in tandem.

We creative folk lead full lives, never more so than now. These small tools and techniques can help you keep that writing simmering all winter.

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