Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Keep writing

When you finish a writing project, you need to celebrate, rest, and reflect - and also keep writing. Over the Christmas holidays, you need down time and a break - and to keep writing. In 7 things to do after NaNoWriMo, I talked about how important this is:

Letting your novel rest doesn't mean you stop writing until February or April. Do rest for a week or two and then write something new at a gentler pace. The pace you set in NaNoWriMo is extreme, designed to blast past your internal editor and leap over obstacles, to discover that you can. Few professional writers write that much in a month, even when they write full-time. It's also designed to build a writing habit, though, and you do want to keep that. What's a sustainable amount of time to spend writing - one evening a week? Three a fortnight? Every other lunchtime? Keep using that. It builds a writing habit and it keeps your hand in, like artists' daily sketches. Write something (or somethings) completely different from your novel.

Christmas time, counter-intuitively, is also a perfect opportunity to do some playful writing. I learnt this from my mother's example, with art. Every year, between Christmas and New Year, we’d have a house heaving with people and teeming with barbecues, board games, kids jumping in and out of the pool, my best friend and I gargling carols, huge festive breakfasts that flowed into lunch time… and every year, for an hour or two a day, my mother would sneak away to her studio. She always had a particular project for that time, something unrelated to her other art projects. Her example taught me two valuable lessons about creative practice.

First, it showed me the value of time out and that you can insist on having it, even when you're hosting people (or a guest). Having hordes of people around is fabulously stimulating, but can quickly overwhelm one’s creativity. Our best thinking often comes from a combination of intense stimulation and then periods of mulling, musing withdrawal.

Second, we need space for playful projects. If we use the same ideas as everyone else, we know which ones work and which don’t (until they reach their use-by date and stop working altogether), but if we want new ideas and a new approach, we need to gamble a little. It might not work. If every project is the Huge Ambitious Oeuvre, we feel like it Has To Work; we can stymie and paralyse ourselves. We need to let our minds know it’s okay to play.

This Christmas, give yourself some sneaky play-time. Duck out for an hour a day, pleading the need to stay sane. Tell everyone it's a challenge from your writing teacher, if you need to. Hide out in a coffee shop or a little local pub with your notebook. Allow that time to be play time, process time. As for what to write, try these:

  • 12 days of story-building: Every day over the Christmas period, I'll be posting a writing prompt on a different aspect of story-building. You can use the writing prompts to build on each other or on their own. They'll come every day from 21 December to 5 January, except Christmas eve and day, and New Year's eve and day. (They aren't Christmas-themed prompts; plenty of that on offer already.) Subscribe to the blog (top of the right-hand bar) to get them emailed to you. 
  • Get your Christmas present from me: a free writers' seed packet to inspire you and get you writing
  • Use the writing prompts on this blog

Happy writing!

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