Ah, the heady feel of a new year, when you can leave all of last year’s mistakes behind you and emerge as some shiny, productive, improved version of yourself. At least until the second week in January, when it all seems a bit too much like hard work, the weather is bloody miserable, your next holiday is months away and what was wrong with the old you, anyway? So while I couldn’t resist the urge to add to the cacophony of New Year’s Resolution pieces, I hope at least these are some tips that will last you through the year…
Read lots, do little
This time of year you can find a million pieces of advice online about making this the year you write that novel, finish that screenplay, Become A Writer or whatever, and lots of that advice is really useful. But not all of it will work for you – and nothing will crash your good intentions faster than trying to implement a rigorous schedule of multiple new habits all at once. Pick a few small changes to start with – you’re more likely to stick with them and see results. You can always add more later.
Pick the bits that work…
Just because a whole programme or course doesn’t suit you, that doesn’t mean it’s useless. I’ve done The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron several times during my life, and always find it a useful jumpstart to stalled creativity. But I’ve never managed to complete the ‘no reading’ part of it successfully and one of the main components, the morning pages (where you journal at the very start of your day), has never worked for me. While I have learned that journaling is a useful tool, I’ve also realised that, as a chronic insomniac, an extra half hour in bed does me more good than any early morning creative exercises.
But be open to what that might be...
One of the reasons I like books about writing is they often throw up ideas or exercises that I wouldn’t ever think of – and, more than that, that I would normally run a mile from doing. But while you ultimately need to find techniques and habits that suit you, it’s worth at least trying things that might not initially appeal, whether it’s reading your work aloud, or going on an ‘artist’s date’ – the very act of stepping outside your comfort zone can be useful in itself.
Ignore any rules about ‘real writers’
‘Real writers write every day’ is probably the most common, but these come in many hues. ‘Real writers can’t stop writing’, ‘real writers will always find time to write’, blah, blah, blah. When in fact plenty of ‘real’ writers (if you are judging ‘realness’ in terms of success, which is pernicious in itself) only write for part of the year, or take long breaks between books, or find that life occasionally derails them just as much as it does other people.
Don’t wait until you have the time
All of that said, looking at my writer and would-be writer friends, I think the biggest stumbling block is the fallacy that you will be a writer one day, just not now. You’ll do that first draft when you’re on holiday, or when you take a sabbatical, or even just when work gets a bit easier. I wasted three years between books waiting for the ‘right time’: in the end, my next novel was written in 15 minute bursts, time snatched out of busy days in a demanding job. Don’t feel like writing needs a lot of time and ceremony – you really don’t need to put aside hours and hours to do it. Sure, you might benefit from doing a writer’s class or going on a writing retreat, but don’t keep waiting for the perfect set of circumstances to arrive, or you might be a year down the line and still not have written a word.
Stop being scared of the title, ‘Writer’
OK, this is a personal one to me, but it’s my own bête noire and it’s something I am determined to beat this year. Because, despite the fact that I got my first story published over 20 years ago, I have written for a dozen publications, I have won several writing competitions, have 6 books and a play under my belt and have, in one way or another, been making my living as a wordsmith for the last decade and a half, just because I’m not on the bestseller lists I shy away from the word ‘writer’. I get nervous and fumble my answers if people ask what I do, or about my books, playing it down so that they don’t think I am bragging or laying claim to a title that only belongs to more talented, more famous and more successful people. Well, in 2015: screw that. I am writer, hear me roar…
PS: I started the New Year with some exciting writer news – the lovely Zoe Cunningham (below, in full Cassandra Bick mode) is doing a one-woman show based on the Dark Dates books. I’ll be posting a Q&A with Zoe later this week, but needless to say – it’s a great start to the year!