The year 2017 is upon us. We face a new president and a new era of uncertainty. One thing that remains certain is that, no matter how challenging the next four years, we must stay diligent in our artistic efforts. The world needs writers, and writers need to write. In order to meet that need, I give you these ten resolutions for 2017:
- Write every day.
This is perhaps the most obvious item on the list, and the one you’ve undoubtedly heard most often in classes and from mentors. Nevertheless, it is the most useful piece of advice you will ever follow as a writer. It is also the most difficult. The blank page is the most feared adversary of any writer, and getting over that fear means accepting that it will sometimes win. As Jennifer Egan says, “You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly. You can’t write regularly and well.”Then again, Ray Bradbury stated that, “It’s not possible to write 52 bad stories in a row.” You cannot write well unless you are willing to write badly every single day in order to get to the good stuff.Make your first resolution of 2017 to write as often as possible, even when that writing is a disappointment. Read The Artist’s Way and get cracking on those morning pages if you need to. Sign up for NaNoWrimo in November. Do what you need to do to keep the daily writing momentum.
- Keep a dedicated writing agenda.
Staying organized is essential for any working artist. Separating art from work will help you switch modes more easily and cut down on distractions.For my business commitments I use Google Calendar, but I have a dedicated physical planner for my own writing and publishing goals. I highly recommend the Plain & Simple agenda from Flame Tree Publishing. It has both monthly and weekly layouts. I use the former to mark submission deadlines for magazines, contests, and fellowships, and the latter to record my daily writing goals and cross them off as they are met.You can go one better in your mode-switching endeavors and acquire another computer or laptop that is dedicated solely to writing. I use a Macbook Pro for my business, and I have an inexpensive Lenovo Chromebook that I use solely for writing. Switching physical workstations helps me transition from work mode to art mode when I might otherwise be endlessly distracted by business-related goals when I’m supposed to be writing.
- Enroll in a workshop.
Find a local writing organization that offers a workshop in a genre you’re experimenting with or have always meant to try. Even if you’ve been writing fiction for years, the discipline of a workshop will keep you writing every day and the insights from your classmates will provide you with new ways of looking at your work and your process.In the Bay Area, where I live, there are several organizations to choose from:
SF Writing Grotto
SF Creative Writing Institute
The Liminal CenterOptions for online workshops include the following:24 Pearl Street
- Host a workshop of your own.
Once you’ve attended a workshop or three at your venue of choice, why not lead one yourself?Coming up with an idea for a workshop might sound like a daunting prospect, especially if you’ve never led one before, but there are some simple ways to come up with ideas.Theme-based method: Make a list of topics that interest you. Think less about craft here and more about subject matter. If much of your writing is in the science-fiction genre, for example, pick a sci-fi trope you’re interested in and explore it in a group. If you’re fascinated by androids, you could create a workshop on how to successfully conceptualize an android using examples from sci-fi classics such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or The Stepford Wives. Challenge your students to defy stereotypes while remaining original in their descriptions. One way to accomplish this is to do a cross-genre exercise, such as combining sci-fi with romance. Marrying two otherwise disparate genres can produce surprising and exciting results.Craft-based method: If you’re a poet, choose a form you’ve mastered or one you’ve wanted to experiment with and make that the focus of your workshop. Have each participant create a villanelle or a pantoum. If any participants are intimidated by the style, come prepared with pre-written lines or sentences cut from a magazine that they can use to experiment with repetition.Leading a workshop is not only a great way to teach others and build your chops as an instructor, but it also keeps your own writer mind fresh. It’s just another form of practice. It might sound scary to lead a class if you’ve never done it before, but writers are eager for chances to write and they will be excited to try whatever you bring to the table.
- Go on a retreat.
The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation offers three-month residencies in Taos, New Mexico for writers and artists. Each fellow is housed in a private casita they can use to work on whatever they wish, and there are no expectations for output. They don’t charge an application fee and fellows are only responsible for their travel costs and food during their stay.You can find a comprehensive listing of residencies to apply for at the Poets & Writers website.You don’t have to apply for a fancy, expensive fellowship or residency in order to make this happen. More and more writers are renting Airbnb facilities, even within their own towns or in a neighboring town, in order to have the space and privacy to work for as long as a week or as little as a weekend. A couple days shut up in a cabin free of distractions can jump-start any writer stuck in a rut. If you don’t want to go the Airbnb route, another option could be to find a monastery that offers retreats for laypeople to use for contemplation. Some monasteries require a commitment to join the order’s spiritual practice, but others have no requirements other than respectful silence. The Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia offers weekend or week-long retreats for reasonable prices.
- Start a book journal or blog.
A book journal can help you keep track of thoughts related to the books you read by other authors. The casual reader might simply note their feelings about a book or what it meant to them emotionally, but a writer should approach each book as a learning opportunity. If you’re fond of a writer’s descriptive or figurative language, write notes about it. Include page numbers so you can find the passages again when going over your notes.You might want to keep your book journal private, as a resource for further literary education, or you might want to turn it into a blog and share the resource with others. Trawl through the archives of well-known book blogs such as Bookslut or Book Riot for inspiration, but keep in mind that you might want your journal or blog to be more craft-focused if your goal is to inspire and educate other writers. Like hosting a workshop, sharing a book blog is mutually beneficial to both you and your audience.
- Copy a favorite piece of writing.
This could be an extension of your book journal or a separate practice entirely. I keep a notebook labeled “Other People’s Poems” where I hand copy (you guessed it) other people’s poems that I come across in books and anthologies.Just as mimicry is essential to the development of a musician’s or a painter’s unique style, this practice is essential for any writer looking to get into the mind of the person whose writing they admire. You might not always be aware of what you’re learning through this practice, but think of it like doing your piano scales. It keeps you thinking about writing and practicing writing daily. Do it!
- Attend events outside your genre.
Last year, I participated in a writing challenge hosted by the Found Poetry Review where each participant was given 31 prompts (one for each day of the month) to find poetry in unexpected places. One of the prompts called for attending an event outside of one’s wheelhouse–something completely unrelated to anything they do creatively–and write down words they heard at the event, then use those words to craft a poem.I chose an event on pinhole photography given by two guys who travel around the U.S. creating cameras out of the landscapes they find themselves in. No manmade materials are included in the construction. I wrote down as many of the words they used throughout the talk and wrote what became the title poem for my first poetry chapbook, Wild Materials.You can take this prompt and run with it at any event that strikes your fancy, but I recommend attending events outside your genre as often as possible. As writers, we tend to immerse ourselves in words to the neglect of our other senses and it keeps us fresh, inspired, and curious to explore other areas.
- Collaborate with other artists.
This is related to #8 in that you will likely befriend other artists through attending their events. If you spend enough time together discussing and sharing your work, you might discover shared interests or a surprising synergy that makes you want to work with one another. Few things in life are better than a satisfying creative union, especially if you’re able to marry two disparate art forms and create some kind of beautiful monstrosity together.
- Join a local writing group.
Start or join a writing group that includes both a critique portion and a prompt portion. This feeds both the need for feedback in anticipation of revisions and the desire to keep creating.
This one is difficult for me, and perhaps for you as well, because I always feel pressured to bring a piece to be workshopped. This pressure isn’t necessary. Not everyone writes at the same pace and I find the most successful groups are ones where members are free to abstain from sharing their work as long as they are willing to provide feedback to those who have brought work. Critiquing others’ work is as beneficial to you as is receiving criticism on your own work. Reading critically allows us to become better writers ourselves, so we should always be grateful for the opportunity for further learning that this provides.—Maybe some of these resolutions speak more to you than others. Feel free to adopt what you like and modify or scrap what you don’t. The most important thing: define your writing intentions for the coming year and stick to them. You will be surprised how productive you can be when you hold your artistic self accountable. And don’t forget to have fun!