I’m guessing that many of you set yourselves some very tough New Year writing resolutions. If they were realistic, probably you are now proceeding at a steady jog with your magnum opus. If, on the other hand, you resolved to write every day and that plan fell apart after a mere twenty-four hours, do not despair. World conflicts permitting, there is usually a new day tomorrow, so … start again.
Good resolutions don’t have to begin on 1 January, after which there is no further opportunity to re-start until next year. If your original resolutions didn’t work, try something different. Here are four ways to get your writing back on track.
Review Your Writing Goals
Do you even have a goal? Many would-be writers want to write, but don’t know what to write. Something wrong there. Stories are all around us, we just have to open our eyes and see them.
Is there a family story you can tell? Change the names, change the setting, and you have a story, or maybe even two. Watch TV. Read the newspapers. Ask yourself, “What if?” What if this happened instead of that? Most news stories don’t have an ending. What if you knew the ending? And remember what the mother of screenwriter Nora Ephron told her daughter: “Everything is copy.”
What’s going on around you? Write it down. You may not use that material now, but you may later.
Where’s Your Notebook?
You do have a notebook, don’t you? All that copy, all those overheard conversations, all those descriptions of people in waiting rooms, all those weird dreams … where are you going to write them down?
You will write them in your very plain, lined, school exercise book, which you bought from the stationery section of your local supermarket. Do not waste a whole afternoon selecting a superbly elegant, very expensive journal from an up-market boutique. It will be too beautiful to write in.
You will write a date on the front of your notebook and you will write in it all your brilliant ideas, the things you love, the things you hate, and the things you believe. But do avoid writing page after page of your private angst, unless you have a counsellor who has asked you to do that. Remember that you are a fiction writer and, if you wish, you can be a totally unreliable narrator.
Find yourself a prompt a day, and write for ten minutes on that subject. Where are these prompts? All around you: book titles, food packaging, TV news reports, photographs, E-Bay. You’re a writer. Unlock your writing self, and you will see all the things that need you to write about them in that plain old notebook of yours.
Find Yourself A Writing Slot.
Decide when to write and where to write. For this you need to look at your every-day reality. If you have family and work responsibilities, you need to manoeuvre around those. At work, consider if it’s possible to spend twenty minutes or so writing during a lunch break, or early morning in the office before the start of the working day. At home, identify which time slot is the quietest. Perhaps it’s after the children have gone to bed, or possibly when they are out on playdates.
None of this is easy, of course, but no one said it was going to be easy. You are a writer and you are dedicated to your craft so if there are sacrifices to be made, you will make them. You may have to do deals with your family. This means coming clean and telling them that you need an hour or so every evening in which everyone must respect your writerly solitude, and not disturb you. If all else fails, you must leave the house and write elsewhere – a café is the obvious choice, but inside a car is possible too.
And, if you’re thinking that the only way you can possibly find writing time is to give up your day job, don’t. Your job and your family are your sources of inspiration and your contact with the world. William Faulkner worked as a mailman, John Grisham as a lawyer, Harper Lee as an airline reservations clerk, Stephen King as a high school janitor, Philip Larkin as a librarian. Need I say more? If you are a young writer just out of school ready to wow the world with your five-volume sci-fi love story, go and get a job first to find out how people operate within the real world. You will thank me for this advice.
Read with a pencil in your hand. I said this in my last blog and I will continue to say it until I become a multi-millionaire, after which you are on your own. What did Oliver Sacks, Mark Twain, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge have in common? They wrote notes in the books they read. So, if you scribble notes in your books you are in good company.
Read novels to find out how novels are written. Read in order to learn your craft, to suss out the competition, and to get ideas. If you don’t like what you are reading, read a different book. If you can’t find a book that you like, perhaps you should try something else: film scripts, plays, poems. You are obviously artistic. You just need to find the right medium. Everything from sentence structure to punctuation, and from plot to characterization is there for you to learn about for 70 or 80 dirhams a shot.
Tomorrow is a new day. New day. Fresh start.
Written by Janet Olearski
Janet Olearski is an author and writing coach, and the founder of the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop. When resolutions don’t work, she presses the re-start button. Read more at: http://www.janetolearski.com