Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
I’m trying to keep things simple and organized for 2021—I have this blog post listed in my little homemade planner—because I know that the inevitable descent into chaos will come more slowly if I actively attempt to stop it. This seems intuitive, but when you have so much to remember, it can be easy to forget the simple stuff.
That’s why I’m writing this blog post, actually—to keep track of three simple pieces of advice that I’m using to guide my writing this year. As an unpublished writer and chronic anxiety-haver, I don’t really feel qualified to give writing advice to others. However, I do feel qualified to take advice from people who know more than me and pass it on to others in a fun game of writing telephone. So, let’s get into it:
1. Kij Johnson: 250s
I took fantasy author Kij Johnson’s writing workshop during my first semester at KU, and I’m glad that I did. The imposter syndrome was really hitting hard, but Kij’s writing advice was straightforward and practical; it alleviated a lot of pressure.
One such piece of advice was about “250s.” Basically, as writers working day jobs, or taking classes, or having, you know, the need to sleep and eat and care for ourselves, we can’t always meet our ambitious goal of 1,000 words per day (or more—some of the daily word counts I’ve seen really knock me on my ass). But most of us can find fifteen to thirty minutes everyday to write around 250 words, and it adds up. Plus, it keeps ideas flowing and keeps our skills ready.
It’s good praxis, and since I’m supposed to have a rough draft of my thesis done in June, I’m doing my best to write at least 250 words each day.
2. Twyla Tharp: Rituals
Twyla Tharp is a dancer and choreographer, but her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life is a fantastic how-to for writers (and painters and filmmakers and artisanal dollhouse-makers and everyone and anyone creative). She encourages people trying to develop discipline in their creative practice to create a ritual, which she describes as “automatic but decisive patterns of behavior [that you do] at the beginning of the creative process, when you are most at peril of turning back, chickening out, giving up, or going the wrong way.”
According to Tharp, rituals can be basically any short process—spiritual or otherwise—that helps you feel motivated to undertake your creative endeavors, like yoga, music, or a light snack. Last year, my ritual was journaling for five minutes before I started writing, and I never felt the pressure of facing down a blank page. This is what rituals can and should do: Empower you.
3. N. K. Jemisin: Don’t Panic
In essence, Jemisin tells every writer wracked by self-doubt a secret: At some point, we are all gripped by the absolute certainty that our writing was, is, and always will be trash. We all want to quit our project or quit writing entirely. And when that happens, we have to take a step back, give ourselves a break, and then reevaluate our work when we’re not feeling so bad.
Chances are, we’ll see that things aren’t as terrible as we thought. And chances are, our work isn’t so bad either.
Fun fact: I could have used all these pieces of advice yesterday, when I sat down to write this post—it was already completely planned, so I even knew what pieces of advice I was writing about and why—and instead I felt a wave of ennui and started googling whether or not I should even have a blog. But that’s part of what practice means, right? We mess up, we reflect, and then we learn.
So, here’s what I’m learning: I can write 250+ words each day. I can hype myself up enough to make writing a daily habit. And I can accept that I’m feeling down without also believing that I’m incompetent.
I think these are good lessons. What about you? What are you learning this year?