We’re nearly halfway through the first month of the new year. How many of us have already fallen short of our expectations for our resolutions and intentions for 2024? How many of us are writing?
I hope the answers are less dire than I’m anticipating, but if your life is as unpredictably chaotic as mine can be—and I’m guessing it is, based on the small sample of conversations I’ve had lately—then you might be feeling a little “new year, old me,” too. And while I might not be able to help you get to the gym or drink more water, maybe I can help in the realm of writing. (But really, please drink more water, too.)
Let me be clear: I’m not exactly a prolific writer these days, so I can’t, in good conscience, give you a step-by-step guide to filling your journal or desktop with thousands of words every day. What I can do is be honest about my own challenges, and the little things I do that work more often than not to bring me back to the page. If they resonate, incorporate one or more of them into your new-year writing practice.
Reevaluate your writing game
Don’t be so hard on yourself when you don’t get any writing done. I had nearly two full weeks off of work this holiday season, and I was convinced I was going to make major progress on a new idea for a writing project. I wrote exactly three pages. Best-laid plans, right? Don’t ask me how many hours I spent baking, then binging on both the carb-y fruits of my labor and home renovation shows.
The thing is, I needed those hours spent resting, if not the carbs. And on the last couple of days before I headed back to my day job, I wrote those three pages. They were the start of something new, and I might not have written any pages at all if I hadn’t taken a much-needed break from my regular routine.
So the lesson here is, if you think you aren’t succeeding as a writer right now, reconsider how you define that success. Maybe your anticipated 20 pages is really three pages. It’s ok to change the rules to your own game so that you’re winning instead of losing!
Turn a guilty pleasure into a story
What do you like to do when you have free time? What’s an activity you engage in alone that others might not “get” or deem worthy of your attention? Is it, say, watching home renovation shows, or is that just me? We all have a guilty pleasure or two. If you’re stuck and wish you were writing but also don’t want to give up that leisure time, try combining the two.
Those three pages I wrote? They were, loosely, about home renovation shows. I wrote about what draws me to them, and I crafted a metaphor for taking down physical and emotional walls.
Whether you like to give yourself elaborate pedicures, rearrange your furniture, or devour cheesy romance novels, think about all of it as material for storytelling. Your guilty pleasure could be the basis of your next main character’s entire identity, or it could be a way into a personal essay about how you developed a particular coping mechanism.
Everything we do, no matter how seemingly trivial, is a potential story.
Use someone else’s story
I’m not talking about plagiarism. I’m talking about reaching out to a friend or family member, asking them to tell you their best story, and writing it down.
But you won’t just be writing down something that happened to someone else if you try to capture what is happening to your loved one as they tell it. Do their eyes light up, or fill with tears? Does their voice crack with emotion, or do they get louder and more self-assured? Do they have trouble remembering all but the main event, or do they have a photographic memory of every detail?
What you capture about the storyteller will give dimension to the retold story; your telling about their telling will become a character sketch of someone you love.
How do you get back to your writing routine after a break? Will you try any of these three techniques? Share with us in the comments.
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