Now’s the time when those New Year’s writing resolutions begin to haunt us: We were so idealistic in making them and so flawed for having broken them. Some of us promised to write a story a week, read a book a week, write 2,000 words a day, or some combination of all of those. And let’s be honest, life has gotten in the way, and we probably haven’t succeeded in the way we’d hoped. So let’s all collectively give some gratitude for whatever kick in the pants our resolutions gave us at the time and send them to the dust bin of good intentions. It’s March (the only month that is also a verb!), and spring is well on its way — time for a fresh start in your writing practice. Here are some easy habits to help reboot your work time and allow you and your writing to emerge refreshed from the funk of February.
1. Take a Walk (Bring Your Notepad)
Sometimes we’re so focused on producing those great works of art (or the weather is so foul) that we neglect the inspiration side of things. If your muse is uncooperative, she might just need a change of scene. Set aside a lunch break to walk down some unfamiliar streets with your phone in your pocket and your notebook in hand, just to observe. Resolve to take in one thing deeply, like the landscape or scenery. Or focus on the people around you instead, reaching for rich characters, lives outside your own. A disruption of your ruts and routines is exactly what your creative mind needs to compose new masterpieces, so make disruption a habit. Change your path from the subway back to your place. Take the bus instead of the car, or ride your bike instead of taking the bus. Whatever is different from the norm in your world will stimulate new pathways of thinking and improve your writing whenever you get to it.
2. Take in a Show
We writers are great consumers of words, but it helps to step away from the books and the screens and experience the spoken word firsthand. Many small towns have theater companies, but if yours doesn’t, seek out sketch comedy, or an open mic at a café, a lecture series at a local college, or a bookstore reading by a visiting author. I’m a habitual hermit, but a friend’s roommate was in a recent experimental production in a local theater festival, so I tagged along, and it was fantastic. It was relatively cheap because it was part of this month-long festival, and the experience was invigorating. And because it was experimental—neo-futurist to be exact—it helped drag my brain out of the conventional modes of storytelling that I often fall back on in my writing.
3. Start Small
Okay, so you didn’t write a story a week or publish the novel you wrote for NaNoWriMo. That’s probably a good thing anyway; you want your debut to be fantastic. So let’s bring those lofty goals down to earth, narrow your focus, and pick one manageable thing to accomplish this spring that you can likely achieve. Now’s the time to apply to writing residencies and juried conferences or workshops for the summer and fall. Many of them are pricey, but some of them are a steal and/or offer financial aid or scholarships — don’t forget to check your local or state arts commission for grant opportunities. Poets & Writers is always a good reference, and Entropy Magazine lists some lesser-known places in their monthly guide. Alternatively, instead of sending out that one great piece of yours to tons of publications, pick a journal that you really want to be in, subscribe to it (or head to a decent library if you can’t), read it cover to cover, and polish that story, essay, or group of poems until it’s truly mind-blowing. Even if you don’t eventually make it into that particular publication, the focus and hard work will allow you to send that piece to similar ones, and the acceptance letter will be significantly closer than it was before. (And, ahem, if you need a suggestion, subscribers to the Carve Premium Edition get to submit to the top of the queue, fee-free, and receive a quicker response!)
4. Think Big
Forget about those flimsy resolutions; spring is a more natural time for rebirth anyway. Make new goals, better goals. Better yet, make a plan. Where do you see yourself and your writing next year? In five years? What are the concrete steps that will allow you to get there? Do you need to make major life changes to do it? Can you cut back on your hours or take a sabbatical? Most people don’t have that option, but you might be able to alter your schedule, perhaps take on a fifty-hour workweek to get an extra weekend day every other week, a day that you dedicate just to writing. Or if work is rigid, you might consider flexible living arrangements, like adding a roommate to help with costs, which my spouse and I did when I left my job to go to grad school. We had two roommates, in fact, and it was well worth the small sacrifice in privacy to help cover housing costs (plus, you can be a hermit and still socialize!). Focus that creativity on your living situation and seek out the wiggle room wherever you can, but recognize that it's never easy to squeeze out the time, money, and inspiration needed for a writing life. So while we're working on all that, it's okay to just head outside, take in the view, and write it down.