There’s such a clean slate to the year, looked at from this early vantage point, that it’s hard to resist making plans, resolutions, or other agreements with ourselves about how this year is going to be, well, different. Here’s what I’ve learned: If you can make today — right now —different, you don’t have to worry about a whole year of different. When starting something new, it might be useful to think about May 1 or October 1. Then, you might be asking yourself, “What will propel me to do what I said I’m going to do now, since it isn’t all shiny and new and novel the way it was early in January?”
For writers, a new year isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. That’s because if you’re the kind of writer who publishes books, or is thinking about it, you write longer manuscripts that can’t be contained so well by events that only occur on the calendar. Most books take months or, more likely, years, to come to fruition and make it into print or onto the market. That in itself makes writers somewhat immune to New Year schemes. Still, there’s no denying that at the beginning of the year, we have a different perspective, and we want something new.
Here are a few ways to kick your own writing into a new gear this year.
1. Spend time every day writing with a pen on paper. I spent years freewriting with a pen in notebooks I placed next to my desk. I recently ran across the same advice from uber-blogger Chris Brogan, and I’m here to tell you that it works. The speed of writing with a pen (you might prefer a pencil, and that’s fine, too; it’s the physical act that’s important) makes it possible for me to keep just ahead of my own mental process, which is ideal for freewriting and blog writing and any other kind of first draft writing. Something about the physicality of the writing process also triggers my brain differently than writing at a keyboard. You should definitely try it; it’s a great practice. For some reason, I find this practice just keeps me in my own creative stream, where everything just flows.
2. Make a mind map of your most recent great idea. Mind mapping has become an amazing resource for me over the last couple of years. The dynamic nature of a mind map, the fact that you can expand and collapse the map, and its ability to grow in lots of directions at once, make it irresistible for brainstorming.
It’s not just for brainstorming, though. Even blog articles fall into place and are more coherent when I’ve mind mapped them before sitting down to write. Sometimes the mind map is nothing more than a list of topics or key words, and sometimes it goes to many levels of detail. In either case, using mind maps can give you a creative jolt just when you need it.
My favorite mind mapping programs are Mindjet Mindmanager for the Mac and iThoughts HD for the iPad, but if you’re just getting started or want to experiment, try one of the free programs like Freemind.
3. Find your 10 minute sweet spot. Once you learn how to drop quickly into connection with your own creative flow (see idea #1, above), you can accomplish quite a bit in a short period of time. I have found that there is always a 10 minute slice of time I can grab for creative work. Arriving early at a pick up and stopping on the road on the way to the office have both worked for me.Sometimes the creativity bursts that happen in these “stolen” moments are momentous. Sometimes you end up describing the oak tree you’re staring at for 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter. As long as your pen (or your fingers on your keyboard) keeps moving the entire 10 minutes, something will come.
These are three ideas you can use today, and I guarantee they will make a difference in your writing life, and if you do one of them tomorrow, that will make tomorrow better, too. One day at a time, we write our way to the truth, the crux of the matter, to our own redemption as writers. Celebrate the journey by doing something different today, and the whole year might turn out different, too.
Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, an award-winning book designer, and an accomplished blogger. He's the founder of the Self-Publishing Roadmap online training course, and a frequent speaker at industry events where he talks to writers about how the new tools of publishing can help them reach and inspire their readers.