I don't believe in giving things up for the New Year. True, the days are getting longer, and just this morning on the Essex-Suffolk border the sun is sparkling, but here in the northern hemisphere there's an awful lot of dark-and-cold about. So it's asking to fail, it seems to me, to choose to think in terms of denial and deprivation in matters where you don't have to. Instead, here are some Trees of Life, from the Museo de Arte Popular, in Mexico City.
In a similar spirit, this post, from the same season a few years back, is about forgiving oneself for failure, but this year, by way of wishing my dear blog-readers all writerly health and happiness in 2018, I've been looking ahead. What might you (I) choose to do and think about, to make your (my) writing life richer, happier, easier, more productive and, as a happy by-product, perhaps more successful in worldly terms?
Walk up a hill every day. You may not care about your bodily health, but the brain's blood vessels fur up as easily as the body's do. What's more, if you pop a plot problem instead of a phone in your pocket, you're likely to come home with the problem solved.
Practice staying inside your head, because that's where the writing is. In this clamorous world, it takes more forethought, but it can be done. Not least, on that walk.
Allow yourself to take your writing seriously. Writing is the thing that we love doing more than anything else, but the ratio of effort to material reward is so very unpromising, it's easy to feel in this post-Protestant, capitalist world that it's self-indulgent. You may have got over the idea that you "ought" to give up altogether, but your Inner Calvinist may still be very good at self-sabotage, in his/her own guise or dressed up as some other helpful but misguided soul.
Allow yourself to take the tools of your trade seriously, as part of taking your writing seriously, from the notebooks that suit you best to the software (such as Scrivener) which doesn't get in the way of your writing and the chair that doesn't wreck your back. This is one of the wisest ideas in Carol Lloyd's very wise book Creating a Life Worth Living. Of course your budgets of space, time and money are limited, but painters hunt out and pay for the quality of paint they need even if it does mean forgoing some drinks, and dancers know they must have space to practice - but maybe that church has a room upstairs with a decent floor, in return for some help with the crèche. Similarly, the second-hand office furniture shop might let you try a chair for a few days with the promise of a full refund if it doesn't help, and when it comes to notebooks, it may be too late (or too early) for your Christmas list, but when's your birthday?
Don't forget to be kind to your writerly self. Writing may be hard in terms of work, and in terms of working with difficult stuff, but that's a reason to be less, not more hair-shirt-ish in other matters.
Write a very short story or a poem every day. Ring-fence the time as you would the time for having a shower or cooking the tea because both are necessary for your health. Just do it. The result doesn't have to be good, or long, or experimental, or developmental or have any other obvious virtue: it just has to be there. The strange thing is that if you keep on writing these little things on which nothing is riding, they will begin to acquire those virtues - or even some virtue that you didn't even know you sought to acquire. As Ray Bradbury says in Zen and the Art of writing: "Quantity gives experience. From experience alone can quality come."
Take a poetry course if you're a prose writer. Here's why. If you're a poet, take a prose course: not necessarily fiction, but certainly one involving storytelling and human voices.
But don't forget that, since The Itch is always about ideas and possibilities - tools to try, not rules to follow - I'm assuming that you've been reading these (and perhaps this New Year's list of things to try) and applying your Accept, Adapt, Ignore scanner. And if you have anything you're planning to take up, not give up, in the New Year, and are able to add it to the comments, you might be doing some other Itch-reader a tremendous favour, so feel free to do chip in.
And with that, I shall wish all of you
HAPPY NEW YEAR & HAPPY WRITING
AND HOPE TO SEE YOU IN 2018