When I boot up my computer, a warning message appears: "Your battery is able to charge normally, but is soon nearing the end of its usable life. Click here to find out more." Sometimes in my writing career, I feel as if it, too, is nearing the end of its usable life. I'll find myself stalling out on a story and unable to think of the next plot twist or character detail. Or I find myself staring blankly at a screen with a half-written article or story while wondering, where am I going? That's when I know that it is time to recharge my writer battery!
But how? I love conferences and workshops, and who doesn't like a good splurge at the local bookstore? But recharging with new books and conferences can get expensive! So, unlike my computer battery, which becomes pricey to replace, I need inexpensive ways to recharge my writing! The following are six ideas that don't have to cost a lot of money and help keep us going when our writing battery needs charging:
There are many places to share our writing talents with others, including: schools, youth mentorships, homeless shelters, and even juvenile detention centers. Three years ago, I had just left an eight-year teaching career and was finishing an MFA. Although I was having some small writing successes with the publication of articles, I was checking my e-mail too often and rushing to the post office only to find another rejection for my novel.
A friend of mine volunteered at a juvenile detention center in Seattle. She suggested that I try to find a volunteer job where I could share my writing talents. So, I did a little searching in my area and discovered that there was a juvenile detention center nearby. Without thinking too much, I contacted the program manager and said I was interested in volunteering for two hours a week and could lead a writing workshop with the young people in detention.
Each week, I spend two hours writing with a group of ten to twelve teens. Usually, I work with a group of girls and then a group of boys. During that time, we write poetry from the heart. I ask them to focus on their experience as we write poems about loss, family, and home. At the end of the hour, the young writers are asked to read their poems. Before I leave, I collect poems from any who will give them to me, and keep them in a folder. At the end of the year, I choose a small number of the poems to be published in a chapbook funded by a grant.
Many times I have been in a self-absorbed funk when I head to the detention center. However, when I arrive and greet the kids who are sitting at the 100-pound tables with the small, stubby pencils that the detention center allows them to have, my mood always changes and I remember why I write. The writer battery is charged!
Each week, I gather my writing notebook, favorite pen, and head off to the library café to participate in a weekly, timed, free-writing session. Each writer brings one open-ended writing prompt written on a small piece of paper. Our prompts include ideas such as: "I opened the door and..." or "Let me tell you my side of the story..." We also use lines of poetry and picture prompts. We begin by placing the prompts in the center of the table. Someone picks one of the prompts and we all write quickly for five minutes. At the end of five minutes, each of takes a turn sharing what we wrote. Although it's not always comfortable to share "off the cuff" writing, it's important to learn to listen for the raw voice. We don't need to have perfect writing all the time. It's okay to have bad writing, and with each of sharing, this allows us to hear that sometimes there will be writing gems that emerge, but sometimes, well, sometimes we all get a good laugh and move on!
After the first session, we repeat the process again, only this time, we write for ten minutes. Again, the sharing, and then the process is repeated for a fifteen-minute free-write. Finally we end with a last five-minute free-write. It's amazing to see what happens by the second or third round of timed writing when the mind is loosened and the words are flying! By the time the session is over, I am always energized to dive back into my work-in-progress.
Get out there and explore somewhere you have never been. Sure, you can plan an elaborate trip, but that's not really necessary. Instead, go check out a museum you've never visited. Go to a part of town you've never seen. Take a hike on a trail you've never explored, or go to a park where you've never been. If you're stuck for ideas, pretend you are a tourist in your city and check out your city's Chamber of Commerce website. Try one of those funky tourist traps listed on the website. For example, in Seattle, we have the Underground Tour in Pioneer Square. This tour provides many juicy tidbits about Seattle, and always puts me in the mood to write something with ghosts!
Sign up for a class to learn something new. No, not a writing class! Writing classes can be helpful, and if you really must take a writing class, try a class in something you don't write on a regular basis. For example, if you write romance, try a class in children's writing.
However, ideally, the type of class you want to recharge your writer battery is something totally unrelated to writing. For example, try an arts, sports, or even a cooking class. Check out local community education listings, which are usually offered through school districts, parks and recreation, or community colleges. These are not-for-credit classes and are not expensive. The classes usually only last a few hours or one afternoon, and they're fun, get you moving and doing. I've taken classes in weaving, tango dancing, stained glass, and artistic collage, just to name a few. All the classes have freed my writing brain, and recharged me by doing something out of my comfort zone!
To be a writer, one must read! But we don't have to read alone! Try participating in a book group with other writers. Once a month, I meet with six women in a children's book group. Two of the women are children's librarians, three are writers, and one enjoys reading young adult and middle grade novels. The children's book group provides me not only with a place to discuss what I write --children's books -- but also gives me a place to think about my own writing, and most importantly, to hear the perspective of others who are not children's writers, but are avid readers and promoters of children's books.
Our discussions encourage me to think about my audience. Will librarians and teachers want to share my stories with young people? Do I have a strong theme? Are my characters well developed? Do I have tension? Whose voice is telling this story? Have I chosen the right point of view for the story? At the end of book group, I am always recharged and energized to return to my own writing!
We all love a good writing conference. However, let's face it, we can't go to all of them. Plus, a conference can get expensive! So, if you're feeling the need for a little recharge and can't attend a conference, gather together a group of local writers and ask each person to bring a sixty-minute session on some aspect of craft and/or the marketing/selling of writing.
Reserve a small room at your local library, or meet at someone's home -- you'll need to find somewhere you can meet for up to six hours, so coffee shops and restaurants probably won't work! Once the big day arrives, take turns presenting your sessions. This is also a great way to get some ideas and practice for possible topics to present at writing conferences!
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