--30-60 minutes (alone, quiet)
--Paper (or better yet, a journal)
--Something fun to write with
This is not the time for the boring ballpoint pen (although I love them for writing in general). Get a colored marker or pencil or even crayon. Or that fancy fountain pen someone gave you years ago that you never use. Or a quill if you're into period dramas on PBS, like me!
- A drink. Something to toast with. That can be tea or wine or whiskey or water. Up to you.
- A fireplace or big spaghetti pot or ashtray, and matches.
You may have heard of this type of 'write it and burn it' thing but bear with me. I have some fun and important questions ahead.
And, it's really helpful to release a year. To complete it so to speak. The good and the bad, in order to move toward the writing life and goals that are important to you. You can't do that dragging around your perceived inadequacies and failures from the previous year.
Note I said perceived.
I always say there is no failed writing and I say the same for whatever you reached for this year: some contests, a fellowship, an agent. If you didn't get it either you're not ready and there's still practicing to do (don't you want to give your best?), or there's something better around the corner for you to receive. I tend to think it's both. So take heart!
(Pardon me, I'm feeling colorful today.)
It's also important to celebrate your successes, whether they arrived in the form you intended or were complete surprises. Take time to appreciate what you achieved!
Read through the process before beginning.
Take out your paper and write all the crazy, complicated, depressing, sad, frustrating, heartbreaking things that happened this year related to your writing. Just purge everything.
Get it all out. Everything that makes you sad and mad about your writing and writing life in the last year. No time to write because of the kids? Lost your job so all your time was spent looking for a new one? No money to go to the conference you've been dreaming of? It all goes here.
Here are some questions to help organize your thoughts:
1) What were my biggest lessons and challenges this year?
2) What were my biggest disappointments?
3) What am I ready to let go of from this past year?
Now do the same for everything that went right. The goods, the surprises, the gifts of ideas and characters and images and poems.
Maybe you were really disciplined about writing this year and kept your butt in the chair.
Maybe you won a scholarship to a writing conference or received honorable mention in a competition.
Maybe your query letter garnered full manuscript requests from 75% of the agents you queried. Even if no one took it - that's a success. And they gave you feedback in their response, so USE IT to make the book better.
1) What am I most proud of in the past year?
2) What surprised me about myself?
3) What made me feel great about my writing and my abilities?
Now it's time to create a personal theme for your writing life and/or goals in the new year!
Using what you've just written for reference, answer the following questions:
1) What have you put off or avoided this year related to your writing? What's the next logical step you're not taking because it scares you? Because you have to put yourself out there?
Has your novel been ready to go but you haven't written the query letter so you can send it to agents? After all, if it's still in a file on your computer, it can't be rejected, right? It's perpetually a work of genius. :)
Or you need a critique group but you don't know if you can handle criticism or where to find a group or how to run it?
Or you have lots of notes but haven't actually written the book you say you want to write? You could also have notes for poems or poems that need revising but you just haven't gotten to it so there's no collection to send to contests.
2) Write about how you have been feeling in this year and then how you want to feel this time next year.
Has this year been all about frustration because you didn't have enough time to write? Disconnection because you haven't been writing or your critique group disbanded and you need a new one? Or you haven't been attending events in your writing community?
Maybe it's been a great year and you've had lots of success - you did most of what you wanted to do. In fact, you worked your ass off, but now you want to slow down, take some time to do research, or just write flash fiction, send out the work you've written rather than write something new for a bit, or catch up on books on craft and try the exercises.
3) What do you want more of next year?
Time to write. Recognition. Ideas that flow easily. Getting out of your own way and letting the story through. Opportunities to read your work. A two week residency in France.
4) What is something big that would blow your mind if it happened next year? Blue sky this - no limit.
Remember, writing related. So you could say "win the lottery," but a portion of the funds should go to renting or buying a house in Italy for a summer so you can write. That sort of thing.
I don't suggest the lottery, though, I suggest being less specific in that case and saying, "I receive funds that would allow me to rent/buy a house in Italy for the summer so I can write." That way you're not limited to the lottery!
Reread what you've written and write down five key words that jump out at you. Perhaps you've written 'recognition' somewhere, 'community' or 'creativity.' I'm talking abstracts here, not 'novel' or 'conference' or 'critique group.'
Pick the words that excite you and/or make you nervous (that's really excitement masquerading as fear, our ego getting in the way).
You can either choose one of the five words that really resonates with you, that you instinctively know is what you should claim for the new year by completing this sentence: 20__ is the Year of ___________,
OR write a sentence that encapsulates the theme: Recognition for my writing. Or: Connecting with a supportive writing community.
Write this on several pieces of paper or Post Its and put them where you can see them - wherever you write, one in your car, one on the bathroom mirror. It might make you feel silly but do it anyway, at least for a few months.
This is NOT a resolution, it's a theme for your life in the next year. You are writing the story of your life every day. Keep this word or sentence in mind and make choices accordingly.
You might want to go a bit further and write down three things you can do in January to get started on honoring this theme. To get recognized you have to get out there, so maybe the list looks like this:
- research and write query letter draft and give to writer friends to critique
- look for critique group (make a flyer and put it up in libraries, the local Whole Foods, church if you go to church. Post it on Craig's List, or in the forum of your state writers' association).
- enter one contest a month (Poets & Writers is a great resource for reputable contests: Poets & Writers - Contests and Grants).
If you can only get one completed, start the next in February. The point is to KEEP MOVING FORWARD with your theme in mind.
It shouldn't bore or annoy you to do it because hopefully you were very clear and picked what excited you. That excitement will give you momentum.
If it doesn't, do the exercise again. Perhaps you knew which word you should choose, but you chose another out of fear.
Choose the right one now.
You don't have to know how it will be supported. Just know that if you commit to it, it will be.
I'd love to know your writing life/goal theme. Share it in the comments section.
Mine is SHINE. As an editor and someone who plans readings, festivals, etc., I support writers and artists in the work they do, in helping them shine, which means mine can get pushed aside. So this year I will put my writing life first, which means participating in readings, competitions, etc.
When I thought of what that would look like, being a very visual person, I got a picture like this:
The universe, which seems appropriate somehow as SHINE feels expansive to me and I am part of a constellation of writers.
Find a picture that symbolizes your theme and put that up somewhere instead of the word if that works better for you.
I also bought a gender neutral necklace with the word, to remind me, from this org which also carries neutral bracelets (for men and women) as well: My Intent.
Keep what you've written for your theme where you can refer to it whenever you like for inspiration. And especially for next New Year's Eve, when you do the exercise again!
BURN IT. In a SAFE place, fold the list you made of the goods and bads from this year to symbolize completing them, place them in the pot or ashtray and burn the list (or throw into a fire if one is handy - that's the safest way). If you can, feel grateful for all you learned, struggled with, and received.
I did this with friends the other day and we set off fireworks as well! (Be safe if you do this!)
DRINK IT IN. Next - hopefully you've brought your drink outside so it's handy - raise your glass to yourself, your next year of creativity, and say the word or sentence that symbolizes your theme.
Happy New Year!