Finally, up early again with 500 words in the bank. The best way to start the day. This week, I’ve been thinking about a question from a friend: where do you start, when you want to live a more creative life? For me, the answer lies in experimentation. Here are a few things that have been pivotal in my development as a writer:
- About five years ago, I started doing “Morning Pages” every day, first thing in the morning. These are an idea from Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. Morning pages can be different things to different people but fundamentally they’re about getting up when your mind is free of the day’s concerns, and writing, long-hand, in a stream of consciousness way. At the beginning, I used to do three pages every morning, initially as a ‘brain dump’ so my mind would be free to write. Later on, once I was in more of a rhythm, I used them as a way to ask questions about my writing, wonder aloud what a character should do or become. I no longer do them everyday, but I often use them to get rid of noise in my life so I can focus more intently on writing.
- I started submitting my writing to journals and competitions. I still remember the phone call one Sunday night telling me I’d won a competition, and my first acceptance into a journal. I’d been diffident about publishing until then, so this was an important step in taking myself seriously as a professional and being willing to face the slings and arrows of fame and fortune. I’m still figuring out how to strike a balance between getting external validation, which is nice, but fleeting, and maintaining a focus on moving forward with a bigger project. But gaining recognition, no matter how minor, is helpful in several ways. Firstly, writing is a long, and often lonely path. When things aren’t going well, you can take heart in your earlier successes. Secondly,those baby steps pave the way for bigger leaps in the future. As a writer, you need a CV for any other opportunity you want to be considered for. Having a consistent trajectory, a few new things every year or so, will position you strongly for better things when you’re ready.
- I moved to a four day work week. I only did it for a year, and it was awhile ago now, but it made a huge difference. Its biggest impact was not just in having the time, but in making a tangible commitment. I gave up 20 percent of my salary to do it, and that sacrifice meant those eight hours were an investment in my life as a writer. It was the start of my journey to treat writing as a job and get serious about time management. Even now, those lessons have stayed with me. Once you know you can do it, you can dig into yourself and find that muscle memory.
- I took an extended chunk of time off work to write – this gave me a chance to test drive one version of the writing life. It took five years of saving, and left a hole in my career path, but I learned a lot of things, many of them unexpected. My fantasy of living out in the country no longer meshed with who I’d become. I missed the structure of work, the stimulation of a big city, the distractions of a social life. Things that I thought were impeding my creativity, were, in fact, an important part of my life. That was a huge breakthrough for me.
- I did Nanowrimo (twice) which banished any doubts I’d had about needing to be ‘inspired’ to write. I now know I can write on demand, and that writing that way doesn’t diminish the quality. If anything, the opposite is true: writing every day, intensely, for a month, can give your writing a coherence that it lacks in a piecemeal approach.
I’ve done lots of other things along the way – reading books about the craft, attending courses, joining writing groups, filling notebook after notebook with ideas. But for me, those five steps fundamentally changed who I am, how I write, and where writing fits in my life.
This blog feels like the next step in that journey.