As we edge into the greyest month of the year, this feels like the ideal time to take stock and see what’s working or not working in your creative life.
But this I mean not necessarily whether you’re creating and selling more, but, rather, whether the moments you can find to write, paint or whatever is continuing to satisfy you, and whether you feel you’re making progress, whatever that may mean to you.
Before continuing, I must confess, I rarely make new year’s resolutions as such. To me, they seem at best like a form of procrastination (‘oh, I’ll start doing that in Jan’), at worst a way of setting yourself up to fail. But it is a good time to look at how your life is going and see if there’s anything you need to change to stay on or get back on track.
It’s also a fab way to lay the foundations for a new habit that will pay dividends in years to come. Here are three that have served me well in the past.
1. Write whenever I can find the time
In 2012 I set myself the challenge of writing at least one short story every month, which is something I did without fail every month until last year. I found it a great way to keep those creative muscles taut and ready for action 🙂
But it was also a demand I couldn’t keep up with in 2017, as family calamities and new work commitments ate into my time. With writing such an ingrained part of my everyday life, however, I discovered that whenever I did find time to write creatively, whether that was a flash, a poem, a vignette, or simply editing a chapter of a novel in progress, I emerged feeling brighter and lighter and a little bit sunnier.
It’s a fuel that keeps me going even when I don’t have the chance to spend as much time dreaming up new characters and worlds as I like. Writing sustains me in a way I’ve only recently come to understand.
2. Submit regularly
A few years before that I set about ensuring I submitted at least four works of creative writing somewhere each month, which I also continue. The challenge was flexible enough not to cause undue stress (some months I submit all four pieces in the same week then forget all about them for the rest of the month, other months I’ll find I’ve submitted six or eight by day 30), and also ensures that whenever I receive a rejection, part of me breathes a quiet sigh of relief – now I can send that piece off elsewhere to fulfil part of the current month’s quota.
It also helps me stay positive, because for every rejection, there’s a healthy handful of tales still out there dreaming big dreams. And when I get an acceptance, it’s a lovely surprise, because by continually sending out creative pieces I’m never quite clear what’s out there, and therefore not too focused on any one thing.
Which brings me to the third resolution.
3. Stay organised
Around the same time I started sending out four and more stories each month, I set up a simple spreadsheet to help me keep track of them all.
This helps my writing in two ways, firstly, by ensuring I know what I’ve sent where and whether they’ve responded, and secondly, by distancing me from the process emotionally.
By transforming all these acts of hope into columns and rows, I save myself from heartache. Each time a email or post out a piece of writing, I enter its name into the spreadsheet along with the details of where I’ve sent it and the date. Then, when it comes back, I colour that row according to the response – one colour for ‘no thanks’, one for ‘no, but positive feedback’ and one for ‘yes please!’
It all provides an immense sense of productivity, without too much effort at all, which in turn helps me stay motivated. And I’m happy to say that over the years the colour dedicated to ‘yes please’ is infiltrating the worksheets more and more.
4. and 5. This year, as I’ve said, I haven’t made any resolutions other than to keep writing, keep submitting and keep hoping. Actually, I do have two new pledges to stick to (or should that be polish?) – simply to celebrate even the smallest literary successes, and relish writing for its own purpose. Lovely.
How about you?