Last weekend many of my writing friends returned to VCFA for residency. I did not – for the first time in two and a half years. It was harder than I expected to view the social media posts about the snow, the arctic temperatures, the dorm rooms, the faculty, and the community coming back together.
I’ve sent cards and gifts for my graduating friends. All three residency live feeds are marked on my calendar. I’ve moved forward with many of my post-grad goals and explored a few new paths I hadn’t anticipated. Teaching was swapped for editing. Invaluable industry connections were made with authors, agents, and editors. Nonfiction and fiction took on equal priority. I assign my own homework now (like finishing my YA manuscript by the end of this month!). My classmates and advisors remain in touch. Yet I still miss being in Vermont at the residency hub of creative inspiration.
Instead of traveling, I’ve been reviewing the past two months since I last blogged, looking for my own inspiration. An interesting pattern emerged. In November, I had one of my most prolific writing months. Fifty thousand words written for NaNoWriMo. In December, I wrote zero new words, but did edit the SCBWI IL Prairie Wind (which will be released today for SCBWI IL members!) and purge my house to make space for my own art room.
If you’re into averages, twenty-five thousand words per month isn’t bad. I’m more into revelations. What did these two months teach me about my own writing process?
NaNoWriMo was less about the word count for me and more about discovering my best writing process. When you are challenged to write every single day, you have to experiment with lots of times, places, and conditions. It quickly becomes apparent what works best for you.
I learned that I’m most likely to produce new creative pages if I write first thing in the morning, before my day is taken over by the many other reader / editor / teacher / Network Rep roles I’ve taken on. The words come slow at first, but if I make myself write for an hour, momentum takes over and the story starts flowing. During that first hour, any little distraction will yank me away. Reading, e-mails, household chores, errands, TV shows, and even people watching feel more urgent. I’m most successful if I remove those distractions by disconnecting from social media and working in my quiet writing nook.
Resolution Resulting From This Revelation:
My daughter bought me this awesome hourglass for Christmas:
I resolved to pay myself first.
I will start each weekday by flipping the hourglass in my quiet writing nook to focus only on my new creative pages for one hour. Usually that first hour results in more revision of previous pages than production of new ones, but I rarely stop when the sand runs out. By then the scene has come to life in my imagination and my typing speed increases exponentially.
When I flip the hourglass first, I usually meet my goal of 1500 words per day. When I don’t flip the hourglass first – even for a valid reason like a morning doctor appointment – the day can slip away from me without any new words.
Writing drains your creative energy. While I was a student, residency and monthly advisor letters refilled my creative well. For two years, I put aside my art, games, puzzles, travel adventures, and any other distraction to focus on writing. After I graduated, I forgot to bring those other creative items back.
Living life to the fullest also fills your creative well. In December, I spent a lot of time relaxing with family and friends. There were weekend adventures, puzzles, games, and – most important to me – a return to art. Unfortunately, that also meant a return to the hassles of lugging bins of art supplies up from the basement and taking over the kitchen or living room with my projects.
Once upon a time, I had a dream of earning an MFA to take my writing to the next level. I had forgotten I also had a dream of creating an art space in my home.
Resolution Resulting From This Revelation:
Operation House Purge moved into the dreaded basement. It was shocking how much junk had piled up down there after fifteen years in my house. It was also sad to see how chaotic and unorganized my art supplies had become over the past two years. Supplies were pulled out for a quick project and never put back. Surfaces meant for setting up a longer work in progress were heaped with supplies and bins. It wasn’t relaxing to make art anymore because there wasn’t any space to do it.
I resolved to make the first step toward a new art space: organizing the basement room so it will work for both my daughter and I. Right now it’s unfinished. Folding tables sit where I imagine desks someday. Stacks of bins organize the supplies that will one day be stored in cabinets. There’s no big window to let in the sun or door to keep out the cat. But it’s a start, which my daughter has already embraced to manufacture a scary amount of glitter slime and resin jewelry. I’m still pondering what to create in our new space.
My New Year Resolution:
Balance – a combination of writing and fun in the same month.