By Executive Editor Ali Shaw
If, like me, your hope for this year (or dare I say, “resolution”) is to make more progress on your writing, then we’ve got to put some strategies in place to make that happen. Hope is a strong emotion, but unfortunately, it alone will not get the words on the page!
Here are my seven favorite ways to ensure I’m putting pen to page or fingertips to keyboard so I can watch my word count grow. I hope they help you too!
I’ve ordered them from smallest to largest—practices you can start with today, on up to events that take a bit more planning and maybe even money.
1. Write for minutes at a time
I’ve heard this advice from several writers and teachers now, so I’m not sure where it originated, but it works wonders.
Here’s what you do: Set a timer for a certain number of minutes fewer than 10—my favorite is 8, so I’ll use that as an example. Write (or think about your project, take notes, whatever work needs to be done on your writing) for just 8 minutes. Try to do this at the same time every day. That’s it!
No pressure to write for hours or to hammer out whole chapters at a time. If, at the end of the 8 minutes, you feel inspired to keep going, by all means, do! But if you just dedicate 8 minutes a day to your project, you’ll find that the momentum stays up and the words flow.
2. Have a writing buddy for accountability
Just like most New Year’s resolutions, having a buddy for accountability on your writing goal can be a huge boon. Find a friend who writes and set up a weekly check-in. Share your word count for the week, your character motivation epiphanies, your discoveries about the best way to lay out your nonfiction book—whatever each of you gets done that week, share it and celebrate it together.
3. Attend write-ins
I started attending weekly write-ins in 2014, and I have continued ever since (though, admittedly, my attendance isn’t perfect). These can take many different formats, but a common one is to have 30 minutes of social time, including checking in on how everyone’s writing is going (see #2), and then 60 minutes of quiet writing time.
I found that even though I was only writing for 1 hour a week, my subconscious was ruminating on my project the rest of the week, and when I sat down for that 1 hour, I was surprisingly productive. Plus, it’s fun to sit with a bunch of writers, all deep in thought, creating new worlds on the page!
With this pesky pandemic going on, many write-ins have switched to be online. While this format doesn’t have the same feel, it can still be great—and it keeps you and everyone else in the group safe. If you want to give it a try, join Indigo’s weekly Sit Down, Shut Up, and Write event, every Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. Pacific on Zoom.
Cost: Free, but you need internet access
4. Do a NaNoWriMo
Na-what? National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, started in 1999 as a challenge for people to write 50,000 words between November 1 and 30. Hundreds of thousands of writers participate each year, and those who get to 50,000 words are deemed winners. That would feel pretty great, eh?
If November is a great writing month for you, you can sign up for the pep talks and word count tracking at https://nanowrimo.org/. It’s totally free. But you don’t have to wait till November, and you don’t have to do fiction. You and your writing buddy can claim a different month for your writing push. Just set your word count goal, set your dates, and get writing!
5. Take a writing class
Attending a writing class with an instructor who discusses writing craft, gives you exercises, offers feedback, and maybe even gives you a platform to share your work via a reading or an online publication can unlock creative doors in your mind. Plus, there are so many classes to choose from, for just about any budget. Check out your community college offerings. Other organizations like the Attic Institute and Corporeal Writing in Portland have fantastic choices too. If you’re outside of the Portland area, most cities have similar organizations, and many have a lot of online offerings these days, so you can join from wherever you are.
6. Take a private retreat
Do you ever feel like if you could just get away from the laundry and yardwork, you’d have time to write? It might be time to think about renting a cabin in the woods—or a beach house or an apartment Airbnb in the next town, whatever suits your fancy and your budget—for a week or weekend to give yourself that space. Just make sure to commit to unplugging from social media, email, and other online distractions too. Oregonians, check out the Oregon Writers Colonyhouse.
7. Go on an instructor-led retreat
Is 2022 your year to pamper yourself and your writer brain? Then go all in with a full-on writing retreat! These are often in extraordinarily beautiful locations like Hawaii; Banff, Canada; Collioure, France; or eastern Oregon and led by knowledgeable instructors and mentors like Beth Bornstein Dunnington, Madhur Anand, Susan Holbrook, Karen Karbo, Frank X Walker, JaNay Brown-Wood, and Sharma Shields.
Some require applications, while some just require your dollars. Either way, do some research first to make sure the instructors and styles are a good fit for you.
Do you have more suggestions? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Feel free to also share what you’re working on. As for me, it’s a book about memoir revision, based on my work in editing memoirs—the most common issues that arise in the writing process, how to identify which ones are in your manuscript, and how to revise to address them. It’s no small feat, and I often feel overwhelmed when I think about all the writing I need to do, but 8 minutes at a time, I’ll get there!