(estimated time: 90 minutes)
Matthew Specktor, author of American Dream Machine and other novels, once told me something important about stories. “You know how squids swim?” he said, making his hand into a little squid that shot out its tentacles to jet forward, then gathered itself into a ball before shooting out its tentacles again. “That’s how stories work. It’s not all forward propulsion. They jet forward, and then gather themselves. Jet and gather.”
You’re already familiar with the pattern of jetting and gathering from your daily writing sessions. With the prep, you’re gathering. When you create, you’re jetting. And the reflection, of course, is gathering again.
In a larger sense, though, the last nine days might feel like one big jet. You’ve written a ton, and generated enough ideas and story-starts to write ten more tons. So let’s do a little gathering today to set yourself up for your next jet.
Instead of getting into more creative work today, I’d like you to make some plans for the next month. How are you going to keep this creative momentum going? When (and how much, and where) will you write? And how will you hold yourself accountable for this plan?
Pick your favorite/most productive form of preparation that you’ve tried during this regimen. Or blend a couple of them together (my current prep involves drawing the spiral + writing a L’Engle page).
Read this piece by Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and other books.
Make your plan for the next month. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a contract, but make it specific and concrete. Consider the following questions and write your answers in your notebook:
· When and where will you write?
· How much will you write? (Will you measure by word count or time or … ?)
· How will you start each day? What will your routine look like?
· How will you track your writing practice? How will you be accountable?
· What kind of support do you need from the people around you?
· What else do you need to be successful?
Keep in mind that you’re making a plan for one month. After that month is up, you can revisit the plan to re-evaluate and make adjustments.
Revisit your answers from day one’s reflection. Update the answers and think about what has changed (and why).
Put an X through day 12 and log your time. Then log some chocolate cake.
A Brief Valediction
You did it. You played the game—and it wasn’t easy, was it? It took time and thought and no small amount of effort. You encountered obstacles in carving out time for this new habit of writing, but you found a way to overcome those obstacles to get to the page. That’s the writing life, right there in a nutshell. You’re living it, and do you know what that means? You’re a writer.
Congratulations. You earned that title.
Now here’s the catch: You gotta keep earning it. “You’re a writer if you’ve written today,” goes the old saying. That might be my favorite yardstick because it keeps the focus on practice and creation, which is exactly where your—and my—focus belongs.
Thank you for playing this game with me.