In process (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

I’ve managed to live many years without the habit of making New Year’s resolutions. In the odd years when I did make them, one or two would last through the year; others fell by the wayside after a few months’ novelty value.

One thing I semi-resolved to do this year (my commitment is stunning, I know) was to write more and to do it for fun, not academia.

The past year has taught me one thing and that is this:

I don’t think I can do worthwhile academic writing while I work full-time in a non-academic job AND want to keep evenings and weekends for myself and my family. Academic articles/chapters and the heap of reading that should inform them just isn’t on the cards.

I don’t want to change the balance of my days (which I’m loving), or shut the kids out on a regular basis while I pursue a line of research/writing that I’m considering untenable and (dare I say it) pointless for my current circumstances.

What I want to do is spend more time developing my non-academic writing habits.

Since June 2011, I’ve been writing regularly for The Research Whisperer (weekly posts). I’ve never had to have this kind of writing discipline before; I’ve always had to write in my job, but it wasn’t to a schedule, like a blog.

I like the scheduled-ness. A lot.

Over my academic years, I’ve written fiction off and on.

The furthest I have ever travelled into a project is eight chapters. It was a horror novel that I started about seven years ago; the narrative had spectral possession, university life, and a total Gary Stu of a protagonist. I had an excellent time writing it. It was a creative phase that included researching collector’s Bibles, remote islands off the coast of Newfoundland, missionary contexts, and local histories. There was even some ‘faction’ involved. It was miles away from the ‘paranormal romance’ narratives that have flooded the market recently; at heart, I still think of it as a ‘Brisbane novel’.

Other than that backburner book, which fell into the too-hard basket when the narrative threads didn’t seem to be leading to a convincing conclusion, there was some flirting with fan-fiction. This reference will remain cryptic; have to say, though, that I re-read some of it the other day and really enjoyed it.

I’d like to change my writing habits, and channel them usefully. My self-set challenge is to complete a novel this year.

This new and narrow focus on writing a novel meant that I was motivated enough to begin before the Write Nights (see below) started. I had a short story that I was trying to complete, thinking I’d ‘stepping stone’ the scale of writing projects. Now, however, I’ve folded that into the first chapter of the novel. It works well.

To give my NY’s resolution a chance to find its legs, I’ve started some new habits.

First step:

I’ve set up a weekly writing evening with a neighbourhood buddy. A ‘Write Night’, if you will. The venue is local, and we do a ‘shut up and write‘ format with half hour blocks. I was hoping we didn’t do what we usually do when we get together, which is talk, talk, talk. I was keen to get these started, and we’ve now had two of them. The first lived up to my fear of the talk talk talk overwhelming actual writing time. While always lovely to catch up with this friend, I walked away from the night feeling a smidge despondent because my expectations for the focus on writing and getting things on the way weren’t realised. We only managed one writing span, even though we were there for about two hours. The second ‘Write Night’ was much better. Less talk and two 30-minute sessions. I can see myself getting into a productive rhythm with the writing project(s), with the sessions kicking the material along and also adding to the bristle of ideas and possible narrative avenues surrounding the work.

Second step:

My default evening activity these days is to fire up the laptop and work on the writing. I can do this in communal surrounds (e.g. loungeroom with others there watching whatever they want), especially with my increasing cache of Friday shut up and writing experience at the cafe. And I look forward to it.

Third step:

Keeping a notebook for ideas and text fragments. I know this is basic, and I have a gazillion nifty little books collected over the years (and gifted to me by those who know about my stationery fetish) for expressly this purpose. But I’ve never really used them.

Roll on, Write Nights!