by Pascale Potvin.
Summer is turning into fall, and the world is feeling real again. Like shelving your whites and your straw hat, so too do you have to put your vacation mindset aside in order to get back to work. And whether or not you’re returning from a physical vacation, it’s likely you’ve felt the relaxing summer heat.
It can be great for the mind to unwind—but if you’re looking for tips about how to get back into ‘work mode’ for the fall, consider these next few ideas. The case is the same whether our focus is creative writing, essay writing, or academic writing (etc.): crisper mornings and autumnal reflections can make us turn inward in productive ways, if we let them. So, bundle up and get ready with our Fall Writers’ Preparedness List: you’ll be told to open some tabs for some fun fall writing prompts, to close others that may be making you unproductive. We may not be watering our plants as often this season, but we mustn’t forget to care for ourselves and our ever-blossoming minds.
Act Like You’re Going Back to School
This fall, students won’t have the luxury of rolling over in the morning and declaring, “I’m not in the right mood for learning today”. And if school weren’t mandatory, most kids wouldn’t be getting any of it done. Consider your fall writing, this year, to be a similarly personal obligation. Think of the piles of paper that a single student accumulates in a semester; imagine them as your next manuscript. If you like what you see, you should take inspiration from those lugging their backpacks out the door every morning:
- Get up early (imagine what work you could do with all that extra time in your day!)
- Build an agenda and/or schedule: decide on your projects/goals and assign them time slots.
- Do your homework: look for writing exercises online or in books. Challenge your writer brain daily.
- Write by hand, when you can, to avoid email/social media distractions.
The idea can be daunting—especially if you, like many writers, aren’t able to dedicate seven hours a day to your craft. You may even be a student currently and may feel that I’m asking you to be twice yourself. But this challenge isn’t about a time commitment; it’s about your attitude. If you get serious about your writing, even if only for ten minutes a day, then you’ll do good work: and good work is more important than word count.
Stop Reading Those ‘Habits of Famous Authors’ Listicles
We’ll always have our icons—classic and contemporary—and it may be controversial of me to suggest that we don’t look to short factoids about their lives for inspiration. Writers just aren’t likely going to tell interviewers about the nights that they procrastinated by watching Netflix (or, in Kafka’s case, writing letters); no, they’ll likely only describe their most productive sessions.
While many writers throughout time have truly been incredibly hard workers, it’s my opinion that we shouldn’t be taping these accounts of self-discipline to our walls for quick motivation. It’d be like hanging up a Monet for gardening inspiration. A Monet won’t show you the plant deaths; the dry days; the winters. Such a beautiful, ideal image may seem motivational at first—but upon failing to keep a similar garden every day, one risks to fall into a self-hating, counter-productive vortex.
Look to more detailed biographies to better see that behind every icon is a human being. That no human is going to be at 100% all of the time—especially when it comes to an intensely creative task like writing. And I’m not contradicting my point about routine-building when I say not only is that fact absolutely okay, it is absolutely wonderful. If you start to be hard on yourself, just remember that being human is precisely what has made our great writers so memorable. It’s emotion, internal conflict, and flaw that make stories move and stories that move.
Oh, but Read Books
… and essays, and poems, and short stories, and all the kinds of texts that are assigned in schools. It’s time to get out of that ‘summer reading’ mode and to become more active with what you read: to become more conscious that every text is going to teach you something about writing. If you get the urge to take notes, don’t ignore it.
Recently, some parents have become popular on Twitter for announcing that they read all their children’s assigned texts along with them—and what a smart, delightful way of connecting with one’s kids. If you happen to have children (of any age) returning to school this fall, ask them if you can mirror their reading homework and then discuss it with them. If you spent the summer writing alone, connecting like this might be what you need to escape that infamous self-isolating writer-space. You may also realize that a young, fresh perspective could turn the wheels of even the wisest, most scholarly brain.
Get Exercise and Some Light
Going for walks in the summer is one of the greatest pleasures of the season. Many writers have written about their long-standing habit of taking walks as being healthful for the mind, body and soul.
But once it gets too cold to go out, make sure you’re still taking steps for your health. At the very least, get up from your desk for ten minutes every hour and stretch. Take a walk around your home or jog in place. It’s detrimental to keep hunched in front of a computer all day, and that’s not just a matter of physical health: the mind needs you to be physically active more than it needs mental exercise. So, please: take care of your writing instrument. Go outside when you’re able, and if you can make it a social event, so much the better! As a human being, you’ll always need natural light and human connection… even if you’re only opening the curtains and waving at your neighbour every once and a while. Your work isn’t worth getting sad.
Enjoy the Cozy Drinks
No matter the flavour, having a warm drink can be a great way to help the mind and body feel more relaxed. And I don’t know about you, but I feel more confident in my writing when I’m simultaneously rewarding myself for it.
If nothing else, your drinks will make you get up every hour for a bathroom break, and you’ll be forced to get that small bit of exercise you need as you go.
Writers are nothing if not famous for our ability to multi-task.