How to Prepare for a Year of Writing

As fun as it is to improvise one's way through life, I can't deny that I love a good planning session, and planning helps this flighty Gemini pursue her passions diligently.

Sometimes that's a very structured process, with oodles of lists and spreadsheets and calendars. *swoons happily*

Other times, it's a process more like what I'm sharing today, clarifying and strengthening the foundations of a writing life to support something as ambitious (and rewarding) as a year of writing. We'll focus on some of the biggest areas that require love and care to best support your writing process.

Let's jump right in, shall we?

Know Your Priorities and Where Writing Fits Within Your Priorities

The writing world is full of advice on writing routines, schedules, habits, and the best of all of the above.

What that advice doesn't often take into account is the varying nature of our abilities, responsibilities, and inclinations.

If you’re working, going to school full-time, or have other things in your life that zap time and energy (a passel of adorable kids, for example, or a chronic illness), a year of writing for you may look a fair bit different than, say, that of a married, childfree, comfortably middle class full-time writer without any ongoing health concerns.

Acknowledge where your priorities lie and, as much as possible, make your peace with them. Otherwise, you'll be constantly striving to stick to a writing schedule or routine that doesn't allow for what's important and necessary for you to take into account.

This has to be about where you're at now, not where you'd like to be six months down the road. Be honest about your priorities and your writing life will start to flourish as a result.

Read more: How to Use a Writing Life Wheel

Ask yourself these questions ...

What are my top priorities? Where does writing fit within that list?

What needs to come first, no questions asked?

Are the other priorities likely or able to shift around? What does that look like?

Am I at peace with these priorities?

Do these priorities truly reflect how I want and need to live?

Are any of these priorities “shoulds” rather than “wants” or “needs”? If so, am I able to rearrange or rethink them?

Centre the Inspiration and Heart of Your Writing Life

Are things like self-discipline and consistency important to writing? Abso-flippin’-lutely!

However, it’s so important that we don’t discount the importance of what inspires us and feeds our creative fire along the way. This helps us keep our bum in the chair even when Netflix sounds its siren call. Honing in on the “why” is one of the most powerful tools in our writing toolbox, because if a story (or writing in general) feels pointless, it’s a flashing red light that we’ve gone off-course and need to correct our path as soon as possible.

I do believe it's worthwhile understanding the "why" for our writing and for the individual stories we're working on, as they're not always one and the same.

This can (but doesn't have to) overlap with the theme(s) running through your stories. One example I love is the criteria the Marvel Cinematic Universe higher-ups gave to the makers of the upcoming Avengers video game: so long as they incorporated humour, heroism, and humanity, it could truly be considered a Marvel game.

Ask yourself these questions ...

What do I love about writing?
What brings me back to the page when life is difficult?
What brings me back to the page when writing is difficult?

Fill in the blank ...

I write because ________
I won't give up on writing because ________
Writing a story makes me feel like ________

Ask yourself these questions for each story ...

Why is this story important to me?
What would I regret the most if I didn't finish this story?
What do I love about this story?

Once you’ve figured out your “why” for writing, your stories, or both (at least for now – it’s okay and not unexpected if it evolves over time!), create something to help you keep it front of mind. This could mean:

  • distilling your answers to the above questions down to an index card-sized statement you can carry in your purse
  • writing a poem with imagery specific to the first moment that played in your head when you thought of a story
  • creating a playlist with songs that make your Muse take flight or remind you of your characters and/or their journeys
  • creating a Pinterest board full of quotes and images representing what inspires you and/or a story
  • choosing Tarot cards that represent your "why", taking a picture of them, and making it the home screen on your cellphone
  • recording yourself (with a phone, microphone, or webcam) sharing your "why"

Remember, none of this has to be public; if you're hesitant about your "why" or feel protective of it, keep it close to your heart.  You don't have to create any tangible representations of this "why" if you don't want to.

One last thing about your "why" for a specific story: if you can come up with ways to connect with it regularly, do so.  For example, the nurturing qualities of food and cooking are important to my current WIP and the main character, so I’m going to get back in the kitchen more often, jot down observations and experiments as I go, and possibly share this on Instagram, too. It's a fun way to share my writing process, connect with the heart of the story, and potentially even reach future readers.

Read more: How to Nurture the Heart of a Story

Establish a Creative Support Network

Any long-term endeavour requires support, and writing is no different. For you, this might include a monthly critique group or it might be the writers you connect with on Twitter. If you haven’t told anyone about your writing yet or are feeling a little shy, there’s nothing wrong with staying more anonymous. You can even find inspiration and support through reading the works of your favourite writers and remembering that, by being a writer, you are part of the same creative web as Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Neil Gaiman. Pretty wonderful company, eh?

As you embark on your year of writing, make sure you have time to connect with this support network on a regular basis, whether it’s setting up a bimonthly writing date with a friend, posting regularly on a writing forum, or working your way through the entirety of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series.

Read more: How to Build a Creative Support Network

Ask yourself these questions ...

Who are the most fervent supporters of my writing?

What kind of feedback or assistance makes me feel most encouraged, uplifted, and inspired?

Who or what can I rely to give me a boost when I’m feeling discouraged?

How can I regularly connect with my support network?

How can I best and most easily support other writers?

Understand What You’re Working On

No matter how you like to schedule and plan your writing projects (with spreadsheets and checklists or flying by the seat of your pants the whole way through) it's worth taking a few minutes to consider what a year in your writing life will consist of. The more projects you're tackling, and the busier your life is outside of writing, the more likely you are to need a more specific, goal-oriented schedule.

Remember, too, that "writing project" doesn't automatically equal "rough draft." Consider whether your year of writing includes projects like:

  • books under contract with a publisher
  • querying literary agents
  • learning about self-publishing
  • writing the rough drafts of two novels and one short story collection
  • researching and prewriting
  • revisions
  • marketing

When you're listing out your various projects, remember to consider both the ones you're already committed to and the ones you'd like to tackle if you can. Seeing them all in one spot will help you figure out if it's too much for one year or just enough to keep things interesting.

Ask yourself these questions ...

Which projects can I reasonably expect to work on this year?

What’s the approximate scope of each of these projects (if applicable)? For example, how long of a rough draft am I aiming for, or how long will the book tour last?

Will any of these projects overlap in time and, if so, which one takes priority?

Will I have less time than usual for writing, more, or the same?

Are any drastic changes on the horizon for my writing career? Are there any I’m trying to bring about?

Create a Supportive Writing Space

If you’re going to commit to a yearlong endeavour, having a supportive creative environment is incredibly helpful.

This doesn’t have to be one set space (this is something we talk about in my Vive la Writing! workshop) if there’s not enough room or you prefer to keep things portable. The main things that make up my writing space are my laptop, a Hilroy notebook, a pen, and some music (usually through Spotify). So long as I have those things, I can write quite happily, and anything else is more dependent on my mood or circumstances at the time. I usually write while sitting on my top of my duvet, but sometimes I’ll pop over to the library or a coffee shop.

It helps to think about these things because it can start to feel like we need a plethora of gadgets and apps and special pens and forty-two pieces of chocolate before we can write, and that’s not true.

However, if you find it difficult to write without music or without having a pen nearby to fiddle with while you’re musing over a plot complication, you do you! After all, having a spartan writing space is no more a badge of honour than a writing space overflowing with paper and post-it notes and books.

What makes you a genuine writer is a commitment to following your unique creative path, wherever it takes you.

Read more: Behind the Scenes of a Longstanding Writing Routine

Ask yourself these questions ...

What are my essentials and “nice-to-haves” for a writing session?

Is it time to replenish some of these supplies?

What’s something I LOVE having nearby when I write? Can I incorporate this more often?

What distractions in my environment make it nearly impossible to write? Can I eradicate these in part or in whole?

Keep a List of Things to Investigate and Learn

The best writers never stop thinking of themselves as students of creativity and the craft of writing. If we want to have careers as writers, or pursue writing as more than a passing fancy, we need to remember that the learning never ends.

The best part about this is it means we can always improve, and isn't that a wonderful thing? Especially so if we have a tendency to get caught up in comparison games.

Knowledge areas we need to dive into could be anything from research for a story to an area of craft that feels awkward to learning how to format a manuscript for Amazon. Some of this will be obvious, surfacing as we plan a story or reach a stumbling point in the publication process, while some of it will stay hidden unless we look for it. That's why it's important to reflect now and again on what it is we'd like to learn and need to learn to become better writers.

This is the main reason why I tackled the Find the Write Spark challenge as of July 2019: I realised that one of the main reasons I was struggling to write was that I'd lost confidence in my voice and style as a writer. Once I realised that, I could start devising a plan to get it back.

Be gentle and honest with yourself about what it is that you need and want to learn, investigate, and research in your year of writing.

Once you know where the gaps are, you can start finding sources to learn from! Yay!

Read more: Introducing the Find the Write Spark Challenge

Ask yourself these questions ...

In what areas do I need to build up knowledge and develop skills as a writer?

What do I feel the need to focus on first?

With my current work(s)-in-progress, what do I need to research or brush up on to best tell the story?

How and when will I approach this research, and where will I start?

At the end of the day, there's only so much we can prepare for a year of writing. Life has a way of sidling in and ruffling up our careful plans and meticulous schedules. That's not to say we shouldn't use scheduling tools or set specific goals, but preparing as we can with the questions above will help ensure that, even if things do go a little off the rails, we can chart a new course without too much trouble.

The stronger our foundations as writers, the more surefooted our steps along the path and the more we're able to give to our stories.

What will your year of writing look like, creative soul?

Feel free to revisit this post later! There's lots to think about ...

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