I'd like to share a quirky little ritual I do every New Year's Eve.
I'm a writer so I'm imaginative. I love the symbolic and figurative. And this ritual is that!
- 15-30 minutes of undisturbed quiet
- Some pieces of 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 towards 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.)
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.
For me, the biggest thing was that I lost my 18 year old Westie, Keegan, a once-in-a-lifetime-extraordinary dog and went through a period of considering giving up writing for a while. It just didn't feel important or necessary anymore. Here's my boy a month before he let me know he was ready to go:
He was as delicious as he looks.
Anyway, the LAST thing I felt like doing was writing. I talked this over with my writing group and they were very supportive. I kept going to the meetings and workshopping their pieces. And I didn't write for several months - about four. Usually I write to get through a sad time, but it didn't work for me this go round. I couldn't read either.
Eventually, in late May, I wrote some poems, then pulled out a novel idea I'd been wanting to start, and in a weekend I had the outline. I felt a glimmer of 'good' about writing again and decided to start slowly, about 10 pages a month. And now I'm in the last third of it and it's turning out really well.
How about you? 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 in 2011?
2) What were my biggest disappointments in 2011?
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 this year about writing and kept your butt in the chair when you were supposed to. Maybe you won a scholarship to a writing conference or won or placed in a contest. 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?
My big 'good' this year was that I traveled to England for a Jane Austen pilgrimage, something I'd wanted to do for a long time (sad fact: I was only able to go because Keegan was gone - he'd been too old to board for many years so I hadn't traveled in long time).
Not the sites where the adaptations were filmed, but some of the sites related to her - her grave and the house where she died in Winchester, her portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, her home in Chawton, for example. It was marvelous, everything I'd wanted and more, plus I received an exciting novel idea on the trip that I quickly outlined so that's waiting for me after I finish the current one. Can't wait! (If you'd like the posts about the trip, I just put up #3 of 4 here: Jane Austen Pilgrimage)
Here's her beautiful home, now a museum:
I also took a class there called Writing the Ideal Heroine, taught by Austen's great-great-great-great-great niece, Rebecca Smith. To read about the class and the exercises we did: Writing the Ideal Heroine.
The best part: I saw a Westie the first day of my trip, within one minute of walking out of my hotel so I knew Keegan approved. :)
Now it's time to create a personal theme for your writing life and/or goals in 2012!
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 take their critique 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 2011 and choose how you want to feel about 2012.
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 in 2012?
Time to write. Recognition. Ideas that flow easily. Getting out of your own way and letting the story through. Opportunities to read your work.
4) What is something big that would blow your mind if it happened in 2012? Blue sky this - no limit.
Remember, writing related. So you could win the lottery, but a portion of the funds should go to you renting 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 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 2012 by completing this sentence: 2012 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 flier 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 writer's 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.
I'd love to know your writing life/goal theme. Share it in the comments section.
Mine is EXPANSION.
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. Find a picture that symbolizes your theme and put that up instead of the word if that works better for you.
Keep what you've written for your 2012 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 in 2011 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.
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!