It’s almost time to say goodbye to this year. In a few days, it will be 2012.
I liked 2011 (I have a thing for elevens). For me, this year has been busy, pressured and fast. It was also a year of travel, change, and accomplishment.
This year, I wrote when I didn’t have any time to write. I wrote on airplanes and in hotel rooms. I wrote for ten minutes or twenty minutes at a time, in between events and appointments. I wrote without thinking about whether it was good or not, because I was so busy I didn’t have time to consider the perfection of my sentences right after I wrote them. I would write, and then close my notebook and promptly forget about it.
Then I had the rare pleasure of going back to edit my pages weeks and months after I’d written them. I looked at them kindly, and thought, “Hm – that’s not so bad. Did I write that?”
A full calendar is a blessing if you use it to your advantage. It can be very good for your writing. Parents know this. When you make it count, an hour can do more for you than four hours.
When you are busy, you make a to-do list, and you put your obligations in your calendar. You make time to buy the baby shower gift, to proof the proposal for your boss, to pick up the BPA-free canned tomatoes. You get your teeth cleaned because your dentist put that date in your calendar six months ago.
But your stories don’t always have deadlines. Nobody is depending on you to finish your short fiction. It rarely gets put on your agenda. And so much of writing is necessarily exploratory, weird, and nebulous – how do you account for that on a to-do list? It would look like this:
Monday, 1 – 2pm: Stare out window. Write 5 sentences, or three pages (TBD). Read Steve Almond story again. Look at your work from yesterday. Read it out loud, but backwards. Doodle in margins of Moleskine. Write 5 more sentences, or three more pages (also TBD).
It doesn’t feel right to put that in your calendar, does it? It doesn’t feel like real work.
And that, dear reader, is exactly why your creative writing gets pushed behind everything else on your to-do list.
I’m here to tell you that your moodling around is real work. You are allowed to put it in your calendar. You might never do it otherwise.
Treat your writing like the important thing that it is. It is more important than going to that clothing trade next weekend. It is as important as your eye exam, as important as picking up your child after school. It deserves to be in your calendar.
Writers often benefit from the pressure of a deadline. We also do very well with accountability, plans, and structure.
Today, use the coming New Year as a universal deadline. Promise yourself that you will commit to your creative work this year, because it is important to you.
If you are writing new work (especially short fiction), use The Story Course to keep you on track and motivated. The lessons and assignments keep your exploration finite, and everything is timed, so you can fit lessons neatly in your calendar.
This year, stop saying you’re going to write. Schedule it, and then do it.
ps – When you think they’re good, please share these letters on Twitter and Facebook, or just email them to people you like, using the little icons at the top of this letter. My wish for the New Year — that more people who long to write will write, and write well. Spread it. Make it so.