Hello to a fresh stack of 365 days, with hundreds of invitations to meet our creative instincts and the stories we carry. While I always love a new start, 2017 hasn't exactly launched like a rocket. Instead, it feels like the days are unfolding, and the year might continue to open up over the next few weeks. As I listen for what 2017 might hold, something tells me it will be a year of thoughtful creative practice for us writers, artists, and makers. A time of rooting into what really draws us to this work, and doing our creative work from a deeper well and place of centering.
I don't feel 2017 blazing with the rush of wide-reaching writing goals or the hyperactivity of projects that go in 300 directions. I don't hear exhilaration, adrenaline, and wildness in the voice of this year. I hear something more like commitment and devotion—something about falling in love with what most obsesses and captivates us.
It feels like we could be in a stretch of learning about the deeper ways of creating. The ways that are not just about the beginnings of a sentence or an idea, but also about the tenacious journey through the writing. It’s a part of the creative process that calls for listening closely. It asks that we bring thoughtful intention and deep attention. It’s invigorating, but I’m also taking a deep breath as I write this, because I recognize that it could be demanding!
It’s possible that this is just where my own creative life is leading me now. Yet I’ve noticed these themes in my one-on-one sessions with writers and in writing workshops. So I’ve been thinking about what it could mean on a very practical level. What's the invitation here? If this is the creative energy of 2017, how might we work with it? I find myself drawn to these areas:
Reconnect with what you know and what draws you out.
To go deep into our creative life means we have to find some focus. We need a way to find what's ready for more attention. This is where I like to sift through my existing writing. I'm turning to it with fresh eyes and looking for clues as to what's speaking the clearest and what's shimmering with potential. Here's a practice for using your existing writing to figure out what’s calling for your creative attention:
If you keep a journal, January is a great month for revisiting last year’s entries and finding patterns. You could also revisit writing from prompts, drafts of poems or stories, etc. These are questions I hold as I look for what feels like my “knowing” on the page:
- Where am I obsessed? What event, memory, idea, word, or image do I keep circling toward in the writing? You might create a simple inventory of images, words, or memories as they appear. Once something shows up three times, start tracking it on a list and notice how many times it appears throughout the writing. (It doesn't have to be an exhaustive or perfect count.) What shows up most? This may be your first stop for some deeper writing (or learning) in 2017.
- What’s the most honest thing I said/revealed/confessed in the writing? What makes it honest, and how do I feel about that? Do I know where my “knowing” in the statement comes from, or is there more to be uncovered here?
Build a relationship with what you don't know.
To do the deeper work of creativity inevitably means brushing up against anxieties, fears, and the black box of Unknown. As you review past writing, ask: What’s an important question here that feels rough or unanswered? Often there are interesting shadows being cast wherever your writing asks why (even if it’s not written in the form of a direct question). Your question might change over the course of this year.
For instance, I've often circled around a question of restlessness in my writing. But there have been times when the question got more concrete, such as, "Why do I not feel connected to any one place, town, or city?" and even "Does place matter in my writing? Why am I avoiding writing about place?" The answers can shift as much as the questions, which is why it helps to turn the mystery of it into a creative practice:
- Make the question a writing prompt. Each day, write the question and then respond to it for five minutes. The big questions likely have hundreds of ways to answer, and I believe this kind of constant inquiry is a way of tuning our attention. The odds are good you’ll start finding the question—and its answers—beyond the page as well.
- Make a reading list of books, essays, or poems that relate to your question. Try to find two or three writers who feel like kindred spirits. There are certain books of poetry and essays that I keep close, like wise companions. When I lose energy while hunting down my Unknowns, I turn to those writers.
Embrace the pace of this kind of writing.
Since last September, I’ve been obsessing over a group of poems. I let myself fall into the deep well with them, and there are days I surface with little more than a few new lines… but I believe, more than ever, that this work matters. Because when that right line breaks through, I know it. It makes my bones rattle. The depth of the work has been tuning me to recognize those breakthroughs.
Deep creative work doesn’t dress like achievement. It doesn’t hit targets. It can feel like fumbling. It often feels slow, because it’s competing with the hardwiring that whispers: Don’t you have anything to show for yourself yet? You’ve got to show something for this to mean anything.
Let yourself be drawn to the big question, the irresistible story, the deep dive. Don’t be seduced by what it does or doesn’t mean. Or what it might or might not become. That is not the work. As Rita Mae Brown said, “Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.”
I’m looking forward to doing just that as 2017 continues to take shape. And I’ll be noodling more on these ideas and practices in the coming weeks… so if they resonate with you, I’d love to know. If you feel a similar pull to this year, how are you starting to practice and write with it?
If you'd like support as you warm up for a creative 2017, I'd love to write with you. A new session of Winter Fires, my online writing workshop, starts on January 17. Use the code HEAT and get $10 off your registration, as a thanks for stopping by and sharing this writing journey with me.