Launch into a new writing year creatively

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Newsletters
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There’s a flat, yellow rock I swim out into the ocean to touch each day. It’s where I acknowledge what I have, give thanks … and beg favours of the creative muses.

I’ve always been a bit superstitious about my writing. I need the same pen beside me and I used to wear the same baggy pants – until they fell apart completely. After all, who knows where it comes from, that little spark, and what’s to say it might not just snuff itself out.

2023 was a bad year for me, health-wise and creatively. Confronting one’s own mortality can do that. It can devour all thought of anything else. But strangely, I’ve hardly met a person who didn’t find last year trying, so I’ll assume it was for you too.

Let’s, you and I, not make the mistake of carrying it with us, unless it taught us something positive. There are things we have no control over, but we do have control over our response to events. Let’s turn the page, set new intentions, and pick up our writing pens. It’s time.

I know it’s hard to begin, or begin again. But here are a few things which help me:

  • Those small superstitions, or let’s call them rituals, can help. They prepare us and put us in writing mode. I mean, if you don your writing pants, what else can you do?
  • Set specific times to write. Late or early, it doesn’t matter, but it must work with the rest of life. It might be every day, or once or twice a week. Ring-fence that time. Don’t allow life to encroach. It’s important.
  • You might feel that, like me, you work best when you have a longer stretch to work. But if that doesn’t work for you right now, set a shorter writing time. It might not be ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
  • Be kind. Don’t tell yourself: I’ll write 5 000 words a day, seven days a week … The first time you don’t achieve that, you’ll feel bad about yourself. If you plan to write 500 words, and you end up writing 1 500, you’ll feel fantastic.
  • Try to finish, each day, in the middle of something: a scene, a chapter, even a sentence. It gives you a place to pick up again.
  • This helps me: the day before I write, I allow my brain to enter a neutral space – often when I’m swimming – and I visualise the next day’s writing. If I scribble down the first couple of sentences on a scrap of paper (once I’m dry, obviously), I can start the next day by typing those up. It launches me in.
  • Have something to look forward to – a reward. Particularly if that reward can provide a creative boon – time for yourself, stimulation and encouragement, just to write. And, I think we can help with that…

Here’s something to help you on your way, and to keep your writing on track in 2024. Before you write your next scene, or rework your story, read through our Fifteen Ways to Improve Your Writing Instantly. If you implement just these fifteen directives, your writing will reach another level. Where it might have been clumsy, or clunky, it will become elegant and engaging.

Our Writing Holidays – travel with intention

They’re not pure indulgence, even if we were taught that time taken for ourselves is selfish. It’s not. It’s essential to a full and healthy life.

We’ve just established that 2023 was not the easiest and I can guarantee you spent it thinking of other people and their needs: spouses, children, bosses … in fact, everyone but yourself.

Travel expands and stimulates the mind – and travel with intention allows you to achieve something as well. Here’s what we can offer you:

Our annual Venice retreat – now in its eighth year

With a wave of our wands, we can transform you into a Venetian writer, living and working in a 16th century palazzo – and, for once, someone else will take care of your needs, creative and physical.

We provide an inspiring space, and daily one-on-one time – to focus on you and your writing alone. We’ll feed you two meals a day and evening aperitivo.

For one or two weeks, you can breathe deeply; you can take the time to think, to dream, to explore. You can live and write in a city where creativity constantly surrounds you.

Watch the sunrise over Academia bridge, people-watch in a café in Santa Margarita, take a vaporetto along the Venetian waterways or out to an island.

And it’s the year of the Biennale, so art is everywhere, and creativity there for the taking.

During your one-on-one time, you’ll have the undivided attention of an experienced writer and teacher: myself, Richard, or our resident non-fiction and travel writing expert, Fred.

It’s pleasurable, but not without purpose. Even as teachers, we find the space inspiring. Last year, Venice brought me back to life. I truly believe it can do the same for you, from 2 to 16 October (for two weeks), or 2 to 9, or 9 to 16 October, for a one-week stay.

Katherine has joined us twice, from Florida, USA. I’ll leave the last word to her:

It was fantastic.  I enjoyed the people, the place and the opportunities to write. There was freedom from the everyday things that distract us, and there was so much to be amazed and motivated by. If you could just bottle it to use when I need to mist back the memories or revel in the feeling of accomplishment or joy of camaraderie.

Here’s a link to the downloadable brochure and to our website. (Be warned, if you open Trish’s brochure, you won’t be able to resist. I truly believe she’s a witch.)

Writing weekend in Stow-on-the-Wold

If you’re based in the UK (or travelling there), join Richard from 26 to 28 April, in that most charming of Cotswold market towns, Stow-on-the-Wold, to explore the art and craft of creating story.

It’s our sixth retreat in Stow and the wide-ranging programme will include discussions, writing time, mentoring, prompts for writers without a project, and tightly focused sessions on particular writing skills.

You can use the weekend as a way of recharging your creative batteries or to accelerate your current writing project. More info here.

Barrydale retreat

We haven’t forgotten you, South Africans. If you can’t stretch to Venice this year (or perhaps you just can’t wait till October) the peace of the Tradouw Valley will provide the magical time-out-of-time that you need.

Spend a frosty Karoo week with us from 29 July to 2 August. Write beside the Aga range, wander through the village and beyond, take icy dips in pristine river water. (I did it last year. It certainly wakes you up – but it’s worth it.)

Joanne Hichens and I will work with writers, one-one-one, each day, in the beautifully restored Karoo Art Hotel and, in the evenings, we’ll eat typical Karoo fare in the toasty dining room. No matter what you’re writing, or considering writing, we can help.

Barrydale memoir workshop

If your heart belongs to memoir, join us in Barrydale, just for the weekend of 26 to 28 July, or use the weekend to jump-start your retreat week with a workshop focused on the skills of memoir.

We’ll get you started and show you how to extract a compelling story from your life.

The workshop guides you through the construction of your story and encourages you to make a start.

If you’ve never written memoir, it’s perfect for you. If you’re more experienced in this genre, or have joined us before, use it to recharge yourself mid-year, re-enthuse yourself with your story, and remind yourself of the foundations of story-telling.

Click here for all the information about The Art of Memoir weekend and The Art of Writing retreat.

Mentoring programme

Life isn’t all about holidays, sadly, and our writing intentions need to be sustainable in the real world. Sometimes we need help.

We have space for just a few more writers and would-be writers in our Mentoring Programme – which provides whatever you need to get your story written.

We’ll set you deadlines, help you brainstorm and develop your story, and give honest but kind monthly feedback. You’ll be able to meet us, and others from our supportive writing community, in monthly Zooms to discuss your writing and the way forward. Email Trish to find out more.

Our new streamlined Creative Writing Course

We’ve all suffered economic knocks since Covid. We know it’s been hard, and we’d like to help. We’re trying our best to offer whatever we can, in a way that is manageable to you.

We’ve streamlined our iconic Creative Writing Course to make it more affordable and easier to navigate. It contains what Richard and I wish we’d known when we were starting out, and have spent thirty years learning. Starts on 12 February.

The streamlined versions of the Hero’s Journey Course and our Screenwriting Course will also be ready to start on 12 February.

Community News

At the end of last year, we invited members of our community to write and tell us about their creative year. Many of you responded, so thank you. If you’d like to see how your writing companions fared, here are some of them.

If you’d like to put the last year to bed or start this year by challenging yourself with some flash fiction, why not enter our December competition:

Write a piece of flash fiction inspired by a headline in your news source of choice. Please include the headline in your entry.

Deadline 31 January. Full details here. We’d love to receive your entries.

And finally …

Thank you all for being there for me last year. Your response to my cancer diagnosis and treatment was overwhelming.

In return, I wish every one of you a good and creative year. Allow us to help you where we can. That’s what we’re here for. Join us when and where you’re able to. We love spending time with you.

We’re passionate about what we do, and that means we’re fully focused on your writing in 2024.

Happy writing,

Jo-Anne

PS – Want to set yourself up to write well in 2024? Join our first webinar of the year where we’ll talk about planning your writing year. You can ask us any questions about:

  • Creating good writing habits
  • Planning a new writing project
  • Rejuvenating an existing project
  • Developing your characters and story

Use it as a way of turning this new year into one of the most satisfying, creative years of your life.

Register here

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