Friday, January 21, 2011

Setting your own challenges

In November, I was a writing retreat at the Oregon Coast, and one evening at circle, a would-be novelist was lamenting her ability to stay focused and be productive. One of the poets spoke up and offered her a challenge: If she could complete 10 chapters in 60 days, the poet would give her $100. Today the novelist collected the money. She had written 15 chapters in the 60 days.

Now, not every challenge is such a directly lucrative one, but having a distinct, measurable goal is often helpful whether it's weight loss, saving money, or producing art. The poet did as much for her friend by stating the required production and the deadline as by offering the money, maybe more. This can be especially helpful for big projects. Breaking them down into measurable pieces makes it concrete, makes it seem real. Saying I'm going to work on my novel for a few hours this week is less motivating for me than saying I'm going to rework two chapters and draft a new chapter.

What challenges would you like to embark on this year in your writing? What would be feasible and still a good stretch? What would help you step more fully into your writing life?

Here are my writing dreams for 2011:

Write 100 poems
Write 100 fictional prompts
Finish the novel I just drafted
Go on 4 writing retreats
Enter 3 writing contests
Teach at our local writing conference
Start my third novel

Ambitious? You bet. Why not? If I get even half of that done, I'll be thrilled. What's on your dream list?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Creative accomplishments

Late in December or early in January each year, I sit down with my creative journal and make a list of accomplishments for the year. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:

1. Did I journal every day, even if just for a few minutes? Daily journaling is not only a spiritual practice for me (clears the mind) but it has really helped me improve my writing. It's practice!
2. Did I find or create opportunities to be creative with others? This could be retreats, classes, writing days, etc.
3. Did I create enough accountability structures during the year to keep me focused and rolling on projects or practices? This can be a writing group, creative group, email buddy, course or workshop.
4. Similarly, did I find ways to maintain momentum on my big project(s)? This is particularly important for me because other than the journal, I don't write daily but rather in longer sessions every week or two.
5. Did I balance my creative efforts and use more parts of my brain, spirit, and imagination? (For me, this means did I do visual art as well as writing.)
6. Did I support the creativity of others (coaching, mentoring, hosting, gentle critiquing)?
7. Did I take risks in subject matter, form, or in putting my work out into the world?
8. Did I fill the creative well with reading, movies, museums, nature walks) on a regular basis?
9. Did I try something new?
10. Did I nurture all aspects of my health, through diet, exercise, sleep, social time?

This kind of reflection helps me set a good intention for the next year and acknowledge myself for my efforts. It's also great fun to share lists with other creative folks. It's a way to get great ideas on how to implement some of these things.