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6 Simple Ways to Reboot Your Writing Routine

Abandoned manuscripts, dwindling writing time, stubborn computers—sometimes your writing life can feel like it’s lost the plot. It’s time to recenter and refocus—and start 2012 off right.

Trash the brownies. Nix the wine. Cut the Coolatas. Dang. Is it that time of year again? Soon enough, everyone will be turning to those grim New Year’s resolutions.

That roll call of self-deprivation has never been productive. I prefer to look on the bright side.

This year, I plan to live and write large. If I’m making any new year writing plans, it’s to write bolder and happier. This year, I’m going to be the bon vivant of the writing world.

What about you? Was 2011 the year of great and generous writing? Or was your work already trudging toward the winter blahs? Has this been the year when your day job and your family and your pets and the neighbors have demanded too much of your time and sidetracked you from your creative dreams? Or have you been faithfully putting in the time but … well … writing has become just another daily chore? Have you lost your passion?

It’s time to ring out the old writing year and plan for how to build on the past year’s success. And to do that, you may find that you need to refresh your writing routine.

So get happy. Get writing. Here are six questions to ask yourself so you can finish the year right.

1. Your New Year artist statement: You do have one, don’t you?
From those first drafts to that Pulitzer Prize party, I believe that your writing should be inspired by something much deeper than getting rich or getting famous or getting even with your ex. It should cohere with your own personal vision or belief system.

This is a good time to look within yourself and ask some tough questions about what you write—and why. How much does creative writing actually matter to you? Why do you even bother? Your honest and highly personalized answers will help you write a brief artist’s statement. I’m not talking anything Hallmark or biblical here. I’m talking about a simple, heartfelt statement that will sustain you over the next year. It will help you to balance your writing with working and parenting and commuting. It will serve as your daily reminder, your check-in with your creative self.

Already have an artist’s statement from last year? Dust it off and ask yourself if it still applies. A lot can happen in a year. These life changes can shift your worldview and your inner sensibilities. So take these early days of the new year to ensure that your artist’s statement still fits.

2. Your current regimen: Still working?
I put the finishing touches on this article in the beauty salon. It was a Wednesday evening after work. I was sitting in the stylist’s chair, editing and tweaking while she put the finishing touches on my new hair coif. A long time ago, my stylist stopped offering me those glossy magazines. She simply applies my chemicals and says,

“I’ll let you do your usual homework.”

As a busy day-job writer, you need to be ready to mix it up, to write on the go, to always have a draft or a research article or a final edit in your briefcase or under the seat of the car.

Take an honest look at how well your current regimen is really working. If necessary, be willing to experiment or make a change.

Ask yourself: Does last year’s writing schedule still work with your life? If you’ve been promoted or downsized, if your kids have graduated or started school, it may be time to tweak or adjust. Just like in real life, when you get lost in your writing routine, the easiest thing to do is to retrace your steps until you discover the juncture where things went wrong. If you’ve just had a year in which you often got sidetracked, take a diagnostician’s look at the where, the how and the who. Make a list.

In the new year, how can you change or avoid these? Often, this is a simple fix. For example, if you habitually get caught up in the TV morning news or the daily chores the second you go downstairs every morning, then … don’t go downstairs. Keep your laptop or your notebook upstairs, and get in some writing before the day actually begins.

Would mornings work better than evenings for chipping away at that ms? Are there incidental spots (lunch hour, waiting for your kids to get out of sports practice, a half-hour between school drop-off and your morning commute) when, given the right setup and equipment, you could easily fit in a solid spate of writing or editing?

3. Your hardware, software: Time for an upgrade?
Machines will not make you into a better writer. Commitment, passion and self-belief will. If, however, you’ve spent part or most of the past year unjamming your printer or cursing at your computer, then this is the time to upgrade your technology. Or, if you’ve found some incidental times and places in which you can fit in some writing, now is the time to splurge on a portable device that will help you use those times efficiently.

If you’re due for a tech upgrade, do it—it may be tax deductible. Many freelance writers work from a home office, which is tax deductible—including all the equipment that helps you do your job. (The same applies if your creative writing has reached professional status—even if it’s not your full-time gig. Check with your tax accountant about what is required to deem yourself a pro, or do some online research.)

4. Writing extracurriculars: Are you missing out?
Being a professional writer goes way beyond the U.S. Tax Code—but nobody will treat you like a professional unless you treat yourself like one. It’s important to give your writing equal or greater status to the other facets of your life—including your paid day job. And it’s important to utilize professional development opportunities. Workshops, writing conferences, webinars and classes are all excellent venues where you can keep up with developments in the field and network with your fellow writers.

So as you plan the next annual chapter of your writing life, investigate what opportunities are available, and what will work for your budget. Writing conferences fill up quickly. Continuing education classes are enrolling now for the spring semester. Don’t get shut out of those webinars.

Professional education and training—and your mileage—are also tax deductible for professional writers.

5. Your support network: Is it in place?
Nobody really writes alone, without the support of a partner, friend, babysitter, neighbor, cat, agent, local indie bookstore. As you draft your plan for a grand and happy writing year, list the people who can help you make it happen. If you’re a parent, can you and your partner agree to one kid-free night each? Can you trade or pay for babysitting services in your neighborhood? Would joining a local writing group give you the support, friendship and deadlines needed to get your work out of the attic and into the world?

As well as recruiting your cheerleaders, this may be the time to look at the people who have distracted or discouraged you from your writing dreams or plans. Is there a family member who never takes your work seriously? Is there a writing buddy who spends more time moaning about the publishing industry than actually writing or providing mutual support? Trust me, there’s a reason why people discourage you from your creative dreams. And the reason is them, not you. So make a New Year’s resolution to beef up your support systems, and either reduce your time with the naysayers, or at least change your reactions to them.

6. Day planners and deadlines: Have you mapped out a path to success?
I had a college professor who used to tell us evening graduate students, “A good paper is a done paper.” I’ve always remembered her advice. Whatever mood you’re in, there’s nothing as motivating as a fixed date with an editor who wants your work.

But how to find those editors and those calls for submissions? Take the time to research the writing and funding opportunities for the new year.

Many magazines, literary journals and fellowships have long lead times. Study the Standout Markets column in this magazine, and check out books like Writer’s Market to choose the opportunities that either apply
or appeal to you.

Be realistic here. Given your daily schedule, what can you reasonably achieve? Equally, it’s important to aim for some projects that will stretch you as a writer. Once you make your 2012 list, note the submission dates in your electronic or paper day planner. Done? Not yet: Inset those pre-submission dates to make a little project plan for yourself, including the sub-dates by which you need to complete your first draft, get it to your writing group for review or, if you use a copy editor, get it to him for that final pre-submission review and rewrite.

As writers, we often get so caught up in our work that it’s hard to take time to examine how we can make things better and plan ahead. But you use this kind of goal setting and long-range project management at work and at home. Why not finish the year right by setting yourself up for success in the new year with resolutions to approach your craft smarter and happier?

Your writing will thank you.

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