Sweeping Out for the New Year
Walter Mitty and I could’ve been soul mates. Like Mitty, I routinely day dream about change, but when change is necessary, I resist. There are lists of reasons why I might resist something new, something different. A lot of the reasons are fear of failure.
No surprise that as January ends, my New Year resolutions are starting to wane. Why did I make them anyway, I grumble. My old routines invite me back to hit the snooze button, order take-out, and watch cable reality TV marathons. No amount of self-help advice can reverse the downshift because the responsibility to reset my day to day life relies with me.
The same is true for my writing practice.
My practice hasn’t staled; in fact, it feels cozy, familiar . . . cramped. Cozy is fine for long winter nights and weekend mornings. Not so much for creative invention. The same type of characters get into the same type of trouble and, how amazing, decide the same conclusions. All this repetition has my characters day dreaming of living better, more dynamic lives – without me, since I’m the one writing them into their same old, same old lives.
Several times a year, I clean out my writing practice – what’s working, what’s getting in the way, what could be better. Since I teach, these days of reflection tend to follow the academic calendar. I dust my office. Rearrange furniture. Buy a new writing notebook, or swap out the toys surrounding my keyboard. I wash my coffee cup. I compile all the notes and stickies of scribbles. I inventory my writing schedule. I’m not at a point in my life where half days (or whole!) are devoted to writing, but I am able to rethink when I can write the most with the least distraction. I also consider what I haven’t tried. I’m a morning writer, so I’ll try to compose in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll write to a new type of music, like jazz instead of classical. Write outdoors. I scrub the writing process raw to basic elements: discipline to write, an open imagination, and a writing tool or two. Sometimes, this process of renewal leaves me feeling as energized as late Spring, knowing I’ve hung everything out to air. But not always. Not the days I want to lounge in holey pajamas and blanket my writing with tattered half-thoughts I meant to get to last year.
Again, I pull out the dust mop.
Out from under mental stacks of doubt and procrastination, without dust bunnies of routine, my writing revives. I write scenes differently at dawn than I do at dusk, most obviously because the shadows shift, the air smells fresh or crisp. I may meet a character who lives in a place and time that depends upon a particular rhythm of life very unlike mine. I’m glad to meet this character.
Very glad to be presentable.
Mikkilynn Olmsted writes prose and poetry. At the moment, above her writing desk is a postcard of the rolling hills of San Francisco Bay and a news photo of an Australian koala as reminders to be open to the environments she (and her characters) inhabit. Her writing often reflects the places she’s lived, including Puerto Rico, Kentucky, Nevada, and Colorado, where she teaches writing at MSU Denver. Her blog morethanoneroom.wordpress.com debuts in February.