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How To Time Travel

Inspiration for this column  came from this photo, taken by Jennifer Marie Donahue @jmdonahue

Imagine this. You’re sitting at your desk, toiling away on your latest manuscript. It’s been a frustrating few hours (or days, or weeks, or years) and the words aren’t coming together the way you’d like. You decide to take a break just as the doorbell rings. It’s the mail carrier with a registered letter for you! You accept it, and then stare.

The letter is addressed to you in your own handwriting, with the title “writer” in big bold letters before your name. And the postmark is from five years in the future.

You tear the envelope open with trembling hands. What advice is your future self sending you? Is it the name of the agent or publisher certain to accept your work? The plot for a best-seller? A slice of your future royalties?

None of the above. Yet the words are still important — perhaps the most important you can send yourself.

What does the letter say?


Every day, even on the bad ones, you’re creating your writer self of tomorrow. The decisions you make, the efforts you take, the food you feed your brain, all play a part in your future. How mindful are you of that path?

If you’re like most writers I know, not as mindful as you could be. Writing is often an “extra” in our lives — something that gets squeezed in around everything else. Here are some suggestions for changing that and making it the priority your future self will thank you for.

Pay yourself first. It’s sound financial advice, but as writers our most precious commodity is often time. Are you putting writing at the top of your to-do list?

I started a bullet journal in January, [1] and after a few months I noticed a trend. Writing was always on my list of goals, but almost never at the top. Even though my list isn’t always ordered in number of importance, I thought the place I’d mentally assigned it was an interesting tell on how seriously I was taking my craft.

So I made a conscious effort to change. I now put “write” at the top of my monthly, weekly, and daily goals, and when I set my schedule every Sunday, I actively seek out and protect those times on my calendar when I can carve out an hour or two for my manuscript. This effort hasn’t just resulted in more writing time. It’s also helped me change my mindset about how much of a priority writing needs to be for me.

Invest in education. Pick a conference that’s far enough in the future that you can save up to attend. (The next Writer Unboxed UnConference, anyone?) If that’s way beyond your wallet’s capabilities, how about a local class? An online workshop? A new book on craft? An old one borrowed from the library? There’s something out there that will fit your budget and stretch your brain. Find it.

Create your tribe. Look for people who will help you level up — who take the craft of writing seriously, who invest their time and energy in getting better. These are the people who on days when you just can’t find the time to write, commiserate — but then encourage you to put your butt in the chair even if it’s only for 15 minutes. The people willing to endlessly discuss plot, point of view, and character development. The people who read your writing with an honest eye, giving you the gift of feedback.

How do you find these people? Look in places where writers congregate — this community is a wonderful place to start, but so is your local library and bookshop. But by far one of the best ways to find these people is to be one of them. Like a post, leave a comment, strike up a conversation about a book or an author, join a writing group. Be the encouragement you’re seeking.

Develop a routine that feeds your mind, body, and spirit. It’s hard to create when you’re stressed, unwell, or drained. Take the time to care for yourself. Sleep, exercise, and explore activities that bring you joy and offer respite both from the hard parts of this world and from writing itself.

That’s my list. What are YOU doing today that will earn a thank you tomorrow from your future writer self?

About Liz Michalski [2]

Liz Michalski's (she/her) first novel, Evenfall, was published by Berkley Books (Penguin). Liz has been a reporter, an editor, and a freelance writer. In her previous life, she wrangled with ill-tempered horses and oversized show dogs. These days she's downsized to one husband, two children and a medium-sized mutt.