Ah, New Years. The perfect time for introspection, reflection, fresh starts and new beginnings—which, if you’re like me, means staring at an empty page with a cursor blinking angrily at you from the first line. Although my horrid writers’ block is a familiar struggle, it just made me all the more excited to watch WLT’s first Third Thursday program of 2024–The Writer’s Toolbox: Preparing for the Year Ahead.
Moderated by Sarah Renee Beach, the discussion went in depth on all sorts of tips and tricks for managing the practical aspects of writing. Our panelists, Kristen Bird, Lisa Olstein, and Kelis Rowe, discussed everything from the importance of outlining to which word-counting programs are the best to stay on track of your projects (And you better believe I was taking very careful notes).
The talk started off with a discussion about the new year and about how to go about starting a new project. Something that particularly struck me was how Lisa Olstein described experiencing the year in seasons more than months, and how winter has always been a time for reflection and looking inward. This ties in perfectly with how she starts all of her poems— “by listening” to the world around her and trying to find a poem’s “voice”.
Kristen Bird spoke next, and I have to say, she might be one of the most self-disciplined writers I have ever seen in my life. For Kristen each new year begins by plotting out the month ahead, and each new project begins with a research period followed by self-imposed deadlines. One thing I especially loved hearing was that at the top of every first draft, Kristen writes “Nobody will ever read this”, which is a great way to get rid of procrastination anxiety if I’ve ever heard one.
Kelis Rowe discussed how important it is for her that an idea be shared. She says that once an idea has taken hold in her mind, she has to get the entire thing down in the notes app stream-of-consciousness style before calling someone to talk it through. This doubles, she says, as an effective way of keeping herself accountable on projects. The importance of a community in accountability was a big theme throughout the evening. Although writing is an activity that by its nature requires solitude, writing groups can be extraordinarily helpful for brainstorming, critiquing, or even just companionship.
The topic then shifted to inspiration—where to find it, how to keep it, and how to “feed the spark” throughout the writing process. Olstein spoke on the importance of resting, saying that it is crucial to have time away from your work to be able to see it with fresh eyes. Rowe said that she finds both inspiration and recuperation in her comfort reads, and Bird mentioned that she draws inspiration from going on adventures with her family.
As someone with a minimum of twelve open tabs at all times, I was especially excited to hear how each panelist tackles organization. Both Rowe and Bird use sketchbooks to visually imagine character development and to keep their ideas straight, and all guests agreed on the importance of keeping old work alive. Rowe has what she calls a “dump file” where she keeps everything she cuts just in case it turns out to be useful later on, and Olstein religiously saves every draft of her poems on their way to completion.
To wrap up, the panelists were asked if there was a piece of advice they’ve been given that they carry in their writer’s toolbox that they wanted to pass along. Here’s how they responded:
Olstein: “To trust your ear, and if you don’t know what that means, then work on developing your ear. And I would also say that if you are boring yourself, you are certainly going to be boring a reader.”
Rowe: “Aside from asking how a character feels about what’s happening to them or the actions they’re taking, probably to show more than you tell”.
Bird: “Let your work rest! I try to give myself at least 2-4 weeks between finishing a draft and returning to it to edit…I know that if I look at any part of the book, it won’t get that seasoning I need it to have.”
All in all, it was an incredibly captivating Third Thursday. I hope you all get the chance to build out your own writer’s toolboxes, and that this new year brings you exactly what you’re hoping for.
You can RSVP for our February Third Thursday here!