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The Old and the New

image by Les Haines

The beginning of a new year is always a time for reflection. One year is over, and no matter how happy we are to see it in the rear view mirror, there’s always something to mourn about its passing. The year that’s just starting is unknown and unwritten, so we have no idea what it will bring. As writers, it’s an opportunity for us to look back and forward at the same time.

And really, that’s one of the best ways to live as a writer: looking both backward and forward. At what we’ve done and what we will do. So in lieu of New Year’s Resolutions for writers, I’ve got some Old and New guidelines to suggest for improving your writing life — both your career and your craft — in 2017.

Old: look back at previous projects. It’s well-known that most writers have a “trunk” novel or two, something cast aside along the way. We’ve all written stories, essays, or just scribbles that are sitting on our hard drive or in our notebooks. If you’re not sure what to write next, meandering through these old chestnuts might prove key to helping you find a direction.

New: let yourself get carried away by inspiration. I woke up in the middle of the night earlier this week convinced that I should chuck my current WIP and write a biography of an extremely well-known female figure from history. I composed the email to my agent in my head, telling her all the reasons this would be the best idea ever. Five hours later, it didn’t seem so brilliant, and I never sent the email, and I sat right back down with my WIP. But I felt that feeling. And my writing was better for it. So don’t shut yourself down right away if you feel something new — let it play out, if only for a day. It may go nowhere, or it may change the game entirely.

Old: don’t forget your commitments. Especially as you progress in your career, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the new — your first novel is hitting the shelves! You got a blurb from one of your favorite writers ever! OMG Kirkus didn’t hate your book! But at the same time, be sure not to forget how you got where you are, and don’t neglect those who helped you along the way. Keep up your relationships with your critique partners. Honor any promises you’ve made. Getting more successful is no excuse for being less professional.

New: always, always keep pushing yourself. It’s common to deride certain successful authors for “writing the same book over and over,” but the number of people who do nothing but repeat themselves is actually vanishingly small. Great writers are always stretching their skills, pushing their limits, trying new things. No matter where you are in your career, this can apply to you. It doesn’t mean that you need to follow your meticulously researched Civil War-era epic with an experimental novel that mashes up Don DeLillo with Octavia Butler, but it means that your next book doesn’t have to have a first-person past-tense narrator just because your last one did. And maybe it shouldn’t. It’s always worth exploring options to find out the best way that this particular story needs to be told.

Q: What are some other ways you look forward or back to improve your writing?


About Greer Macallister [1]

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN'S LIE was an Indie Next pick, Target Book Club selection, and a USA Today bestseller, and has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain's Freckle Films. Her next novel is GIRL IN DISGUISE, about America's first female private investigator, Kate Warne (Sourcebooks, March 2017.)