“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
–T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Now you’ve done it. You’ve made a resolution, haven’t you? There you were on New Year’s Eve, at the restaurant, at the party, on your couch, sipping/gulping champagne no doubt, and in a rush of creative yearning and inspiration, you proclaimed that 2014 would be different. “This year, I’m going to write more!” Or, “In 2014, I must read more!” Maybe you were foolhardy enough to claim both.
We readers and writers are prone to these heartfelt moments. Do we not live for drama, the swell of emotion, a good story arc? Sometimes inspiration strikes in the most inconvenient places. A new idea for a novel presents itself while you’re tied up with relatives over a long holiday; during a morning run you become convinced to begin that play you’ve always wanted to write. Then the relatives pack up and you collapse in front of the television. After the run, you treat yourself to a lunch out and a shopping trip. New Year’s Eve is like a breeding ground for lofty pronouncements; they can come fast and furious as the previous year fades.
Eliot’s words are inspirational but elusive. Sometimes these light-bulb moments fill us with great feelings of hope and promise, but what happens when the poetic glow fades? Unless you change those vague, glimmering intentions into something practically achievable, nothing is going to happen. Sorry to be blunt, but there it is. Like any big job, this one needs to be analyzed and strategized.
“I want to write more!”
It seems to me when writers say this vague thing, it can mean a great many specific things. Often, it means “I want to finish that project,” or, “I want to start that new project.” Either way, you need a plan. If it’s a writing project that needs finishing, what needs to be done? Plotting? Editing? Soliciting readers? How much time do you think it will take? If it’s a new project that beckons, decide how you’ll start. An outline? Research? Or just carving out time in the chair? Make lists and write down your intentions, step by step. And most importantly, SET DEADLINES, even if they’re vague ones. For the past several years, I’ve gotten big chunks of writing done in the fall months. So I tend to think in seasons when I’m planning workload. In the summer, I will _____; by the end of winter, I will finish _____.
Sidenote: Contemplate your motivations
Do you want to read more because everyone posted self-satisfied end-of-year book lists and made you feel inadequate? Do you want to write more because all of the successful authors seem to spawn a new book every year? To thine own self be true! Read more because you miss it; write more because you love it.
Time after time
If by “I want to write/read more,” you’re really just dealing with the logistics of finding the time, then consider how you’re currently spending it. Chances are, something has to go. Probably it’s television watching, online cruising, or general lazing about. Maybe it’s socializing, or cooking, or something else you enjoy. You may need to change up your work requirements. Several years ago, we had four kids under the age of three (still have the kids, just bigger now). I wasn’t writing at all, and I wasn’t reading much. I couldn’t expect to spend an entire weekend buried in a book; I had to change my methods or it wasn’t going to happen. I had to find 10- or 15-minute snatches, during naps or between piles of laundry or whatever. The writing suffered for a few more years, but I did get back to reading. Take something out of your schedule, and fit reading and writing in.
When you say you want to write more, might you really mean that you want to become a better writer? I’m not being pedantic; obviously, practicing writing is the best way to get better. There’s a universally accepted idea that to be a writer, you must write every day. Ass in chair, half an hour at least. You’ve heard it. But what if you’re like me and write in spurts of a month or two, five or six hours a day, every day until exhausted and finished? Everybody is different, and there are many ways to work on your writing when you’re not actually writing. What are these magical practices, you ask?
1) Thinking. Even when you’re playing cards with your relatives over that long holiday, you can think about your novel. Try to steal away and scribble some notes between hands. Sometimes my best “writing” happens when I’m sitting still, or at a movie being inspired, or listening to music.
2) Planning. Outlines, character sketches, scene ideas. Anything that goes into that messy notebook for later use is part of the process. It’s writing.
3) Talking craft with other writers. This isn’t just a plug for #LitChat; it’s scientifically proven. Discussing the process with other writers improves your craft. Just don’t overdo it.
4) Reading. This is two-fold: reading fiction and other things you love, and reading writing advice. Again, just don’t do too much of the latter. The former, as much as you want.
And yes, eventually, you have to get into that chair. You will. Break down your goals into achievable mini-goals and start with the first one on the list. 2014 is the year for new words, in your voice. Get to it!