Writing: What You Need to Know for 2018, by Dylan Dartnell

If you are like me, a stupendous procrastinator with wild ambition, you might have exhausted Facebook’s ‘save’ function and now have an archive of writing tips and tricks, and a reading list longer than the Dymock’s Top 100. Soon, the heaping volume of saved articles, podcasts, and videos will be enough to incite an aneurysm. But never fear! I have consolidated many (and I mean MANY) of the articles you have undoubtedly catalogued into the ‘I’ll read it later’ folder into one, finite article that will inspire and sustain the motivation you need to blast your writing goals for 2018 (there is something about a New Year that brings a little aerobics instructor out in all of us).
We are already two weeks in and have little time to waste, so let’s get moving.

1. Workspace

First things first, you need to claim a space for yourself. It needs to be more than your favourite spot on the couch. It has to carry the weight of what you’re about to pour out over your journal or keyboard, so a study desk or tabletop will be perfect. If you are lucky enough to claim a space of your own at home, then dress it up. You will be spending a lot more time at that desk this year, so make sure you are comfortable. Keep the room well-lit, atmospheric, free from distractions (and I will touch more on this a bit further down), and open to creative productivity and to some much needed fresh air. There is no need to be cooped up and smothered by a stuffy work environment. Of course, these are only a few ideas to help spark some innovative interior design that will enable you to knock out a chapter later this afternoon.
However, not all of us can afford this luxury. Many of us lead a double life working another job, attending to a growing family, or attempting a second New Year’s resolution because one challenge never seems to be enough. The point is we are constantly on the move and need to be prepared; this leads me to my next point.

2. Keys, Wallet, Phone, PEN

If you can, keep a journal on your person at all times, but having something to write on doesn’t concern me as much as having nothing to write with. The backside of envelopes, spare serviettes, and free space on your skin are easy enough to come by and resourceful means to record that brilliant sentence of yours that cannot possibly be forgotten. But do not be caught out without a pen! Worst comes to worst, open a fresh notes page in your smartphone and set a reminder for once you have finished work/uni/finally gotten the children to sleep, so that you can get back to it that same day and develop the idea into something a little more concrete, like a journal.

3. Set the time, write the crime (or you know… whatever else)

Regardless of where you write and what you write with—maybe it is the finest quill imported from the outskirts of a mythic British castle from the 17th Century, dipped in the blood of a dragon slain, for all I care—you need to allocate time to write every day. At the beginning of every week I spend some time assessing my priorities and organising them accordingly. For too many years, writing was one of those things that just didn’t make the cut if my week was getting out of hand. But if you want to scale the heights of the craft like J.K. Rowling, we must heed her advice: “defend your writing time, ruthlessly.”
It’s also a good habit to start pencilling in submission deadlines for writing competitions. It gives you something to work towards with the added benefits of having your work looked over by industry professionals, puts you in the running to win some monetary prizes and commendations, and who doesn’t like a bit of competition?

4. Resources! Read all about it!

Now that you have scheduled in a daily writing time, I want you to schedule in your diary at least once a week a time to conduct research. Your research can be as pertinent to your writing as you like and may take the form of an article or podcast. It might also be as gratifying as listening/reading to your favourite author’s writing and reading recommendations. Ultimately, the purpose of this time block is to be inspired, ignited, and directed, in order to get your writing muscle flexing. Local and/or online writing groups are also another great asset. They come with the added benefit of getting out and meeting new people. Great things are achieved when we are surrounded by a strong support network!
It is also a good opportunity to refine your working efficiency. For example, I recommend checking out Thomas Frank’s YouTube channel. He produces weekly videos that will help you maximise the time you spend working on your creative projects, with an endearing sense of geeky humour.

5. Set small goals at first

To most people, scheduling daily writing seems like an unlikely request, but don’t let this frighten you. Nobody is asking you to sit and write until your pen runs dry or the buttons on your keyboard are worn near-unrecognisable. Set goals as small as you feel achievable (maybe it’s writing for a solid five minutes) and once you build a little confidence and pace, try adding another five minutes, or write until the end of the page. Quite frankly, we are just proud that you have come this far in wanting to succeed as a writer!

6. Distractions

My Mum once said, “Dylan, distractions are…” I then ran into a tree and grazed an entire side of my face, which took over a week to heal. Ironically, she was the distraction. But distraction often comes in far less obvious forms than overbearing mothers. Sometimes it’s children. Other times it’s your phone. Most of the time, it’s FOMO of Trump’s latest tweet. Trust me: it can wait. There are apps that exist now, which will block online distractions for you. They, over at Google, are still trying to develop software that will block children and Trump (same thing?). We can only hope they hurry. For now, maybe just try explaining to them, or anyone else for that matter, that when you are in your study, they are not to disturb your genius (“even if there’s a fire”[1])

7. Rejection and failure

Status: Inevitable. Fortunately for you, we believe in you, and the Creator who gave you an affinity for words in the first place believes in you (thank you, God/Poseidon/Dumbledore). We stand in solidarity. Keep writing! Allen Brouwer in his article, “Maintain Your Flow By Breaking Bad Habits That Are Killing Your Productivity”, commissions us not to let the ‘perfect’ be the enemy of the good and to start learning the difference. It will save you from battering yourself with degrading speech; sometimes you can be really mean to yourself and this needs to stop.

8. Take yourself seriously!

Ruthanne Reid says this quite aptly, “A runner runs. A painter paints. A cook cooks.” Guess what a writer does? Writes. If writing from the cosmos and into a job is your goal this year then it’s time you started taking yourself more seriously (and that’s an order, soldier). No more negative self-talk. No more distractions. No more “I’ll start that on Monday” or “when the kid’s finish school”. Pick up your pen, because you are starting today!
[1] that was a movie quote and should not be taken literally

One Comment Add yours

  1. Nick Morphew says:

    Hello Dylan!

    This is an insightful and helpful guide to any new or seasoned writer. You’ve obviously come from a place of experience, Dylan – times will more often be tough before they get easier. And who wants easy, anyway?

    I was listening to a podcast recently that quoted JFK’s famous speech about his ambitions for space exploration:

    “We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

    As a teacher, I felt absolutely compelled to share this with my class. I have an alarming number of children that give up at the first glance or waft of difficulty on the breeze and unwittingly accept the far less desirable choice – despair and hopelessness. Neither are fun nor rewarding in any way conceivable. So why do people choose this? It has got to be one of the great mysteries of humankind and I’m on my own personal journey of actively choosing success, because if we don’t actively choose success, we passively choose failure.

    Thanks so much for this article, Dylan. I enjoyed reading it and appreciate the time you took out of your day to get it in front of an audience on that fateful day – January 15, 2018!

    Best regards,
    Nick Morphew

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