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What to Give Yourself This Year

Flickr Creative Commons: asenat29

It’s easy to look ahead to a new year and make resolutions about new habits—I’ll write 1,000 words a day, I’ll write seven days a week, I’ll finish/start that novel/short story/novella—you get the idea. But instead of resolving to do better, try harder, work smarter (not that there’s anything wrong with that), why not look at what gifts you could give yourself in the year ahead instead? A few to consider:

A sacred space

This year I looked around the home office in which I do all my writing and realized it looked like a dorm room, with posters taped to the walls, papers overflowing the desk, piles of books on the floor, and a mish-mash of furniture. My desk, a lumbering dark wood beast, faced a wall that hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in 10 years. When I opened the closet door, things fell on my head (this is truth). This was not a space that said, “brilliant creative work is being done here.” It was a space that said, “I’m too busy to deal with this.” So I made time. I painted the office cream, with pale gray woodwork. I painted that big dark desk a beautiful shade of gray-blue. I moved the desk to face the window, and put a bird feeder outside in the yard. I organized the books and papers, threw away a lot, cleaned out the closet, and framed and hung paintings I’d done on the walls. I cleared my desk of everything except my computer, a notepad and pen, and one or two small items that bring me pleasure—a millefiori paperweight my aunt gave me when I finished my last novel, a photo of my girls as babies, the glass bowl that sat on my father’s dresser. When I walk in here to work, it’s peaceful and inspiring. It’s been well worth the cost of a few gallons of paint.  For more on how I created my sacred space, complete with before and after photos, click here [1].


It’s our most precious resource and the one we waste most often. I learned long ago that I need to exercise a minimum of three times a week or I get squirrely. So I schedule three hours of exercise a week into my calendar as soon as I turn the page to a new month. Those three hours per week are inviolable; everything else I do (with rare exceptions) gets scheduled around them. I’ve learned to do the same with writing. I wrote my first novel while working part-time and taking care of two young kids, and I got it done by carving time out of each morning after my kids left for school, and out of each evening after they went to bed.


You have to write a lot of bad sentences to raise your percentage of flawless sentences. So write those bad sentences and try to make them better but don’t beat yourself up for them. They’re part of the process, too.

A good critique group

I’m in a couple different writing groups, a real one and a virtual one, and I couldn’t do without either one. My real-life group meets once every 4-6 weeks and we support each other fiercely and we tell the truth to each other about our work. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but it’s seldom wrong. My group has saved me from improbable plot twists, implausible behavior (by my characters), boredom, and giving up.


My friends, writing is hard. Writing an entire novel is harder still. When I fell deep into the Slough of Despond while writing my first novel, my husband said to me, “Just finish it. Even if it never gets published, you will have written an entire book. That’s a huge accomplishment.” He was right. I’ve had three books published, written hundreds of pages of two other novels, and I recently started yet another novel, a brand new one. And I’ll tell you, standing at the starting line of a new book is terrifying—so is wading through the middle or hurtling toward the end, for that matter. It’s always hard. Give yourself some genuine appreciation for the enormity of the task you face and even more, your willingness to get up and do it again, day after day. Kudos, writers. Well done. Happy New Year.

Have you given yourself a gift lately? How did it affect your creativity? Which gift do you most need to give yourself? 

About Kathleen McCleary [2]

Kathleen McCleary is the author of three novels—House and Home, A Simple Thing, and Leaving Haven—and has worked as a bookseller, bartender, and barista (all great jobs for gathering material for fiction). A Simple Thing (HarperCollins 2012) was nominated for the Library of Virginia Literary Awards. She was a journalist for many years before turning to fiction, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and USA Weekend, as well as HGTV.com, where she was a regular columnist. She taught writing as an adjunct professor at American University in Washington, D.C., and teaches creative writing to kids ages 8-18 as an instructor with Writopia Labs, a non-profit. She also offers college essay coaching (http://thenobleapp.com), because she believes that life is stressful enough and telling stories of any kind should be exciting and fun. When she's not writing or coaching writing, she looks for any excuse to get out into the woods or mountains or onto a lake. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two daughters and Jinx the cat.