Well, 2016 is nearly behind us. Can I get a Hallelujah?
In the interest of wanting to build many excellent things in 2017, allow me to propose a plan.
I’d like us, as a community, to commit to a year of consistent improvement as writers and creative professionals, starting now and continuing through December next year.
We’ll get started this week with some easy and interesting warm-up work, before we head into the Tilt-A-Whirl of the winter holidays. Then in 2017, each month we’ll have a pair of “prompts” to work on … tactical, workable things we can do to make our content better.
One prompt will give you a creative technique to work on. (Today you also get a bonus creativity prompt.) The other prompt will focus on productive habits … so you can get more of your excellent content created and published.
Your content excellence prompts for December 2016
This month, feel free to focus on one prompt or noodle around with them all.
The first December prompt is “Values”
In other words, the ideas or themes that are important to you as a person — that give your life meaning.
Things like Fairness, Faith, or Freedom.
I’ve written about this exercise before, but it’s powerful (and backed by good research), and it’s simple enough to bear repeating.
The exercise is to write out a list of 5–10 values that matter to you. Keep this list somewhere handy, and look it over from time to time.
These don’t have to be themes you’re handling particularly well at the moment. For example, Family might be on your list, but you might be having a tough time making family time while you’re getting the bills paid. If it matters to you, whether or not it’s going well, it should be on your list.
They also don’t have to be “virtuous.” If you don’t have “World Peace” on there, but you do have “Fun” or “Status” or “Financial stability,” no one’s going to call the Values Police.
Go with themes that are actually meaningful and important to you.
Then focus on one that stands out for you today, and just write a few paragraphs about how it’s playing out in your life right now.
You might write about:
- What the value means to you
- A quick memory or story
- Frustrations with the value
- Mixed feelings about the value
This writing is just for you, so write about what’s real, not what you think you should write.
What it will do for you
The values exercise has a lot of benefits.
First, it connects you to something that matters — something that puts some G.A.S in your creative tank.
That will add vitality and freshness to your writing, whether or not you’re writing about that value. (More on that below.)
Connecting to your values is also energizing. Research shows that exercises like this one give people the “strength to do what needs to be done,” whether it’s getting more exercise or sitting down first thing every day to get your writing done.
The values exercise also helps you make better decisions. When you notice you’re giving short shrift to Community, Health, or another important value, you’ll feel spurred to make some course corrections.
The dark side of values
There’s a downside to the values exercise that writers need to be particularly wary of.
Connecting to your values is great. Preaching them is tedious.
Your values should inform what you write, because they inform how you think and live. But when your content becomes a stream of, “Because I value X, we should all do Y,” it gets boring even for the people who are with you.
There’s a time and a place for a rousing manifesto, but most of the time, your values should infuse your content, not steamroll it.
A bonus creativity prompt
You might not feel like writing about values every day, so I’d like to propose another option you can play with this month, or any month.
Writers who spend all their time “creating content” run the risk of burnout … and extreme creative boredom.
The bonus prompt: to sharpen your skills and perfect your craft, schedule some time to play with words
Screenwriting, playwriting, fiction, and poetry are all delicious ways to play with language, sound, and meaning … and take a break from writing another numbered list post.
Did you know that Copyblogger’s Editor-in-Chief, Stefanie Flaxman, publishes a weekly creative writing prompt? Well, she does … and they’re great fun to explore:
You don’t have to aim for a completed screenplay here, or even a finished short story. But writing quick vignettes is fantastic deliberate practice for anyone who wants to write well.
The habit prompt for this month
In addition to a creative prompt each month, we’ll give you a habit prompt — something you can work on to become more productive and effective.
The December habit prompt is: write every day (as you define it) at a consistent(-ish) time
By as you define it, I mean that you can commit to seven days a week, or you can go with just the weekdays, or you can split the difference and take one day a week off.
Whichever way you go, try for consistency. So if you take a day off, try to make it the same day each week. And try to find a consistent time of day that works — at least most of the time.
For this prompt, keep your word count commitment small. A half-page or even a paragraph is enough to keep your commitment rolling. Consistency matters more than volume when you’re building new habits.
I’ve written every day for a whole bunch of years, but most of the time I’ve squeezed that into all kinds of times of day. This month I’ve chosen a consistent time of day (after coffee but before I do other work) to knock out a page or two.
Most days I end up writing quite a bit more than that, but getting at least a short handwritten page done first thing is my daily habit commitment for this month.
Am I hitting it every morning? Not quite. Sometimes I space out and just plain forget until later in the day, particularly on weekends. But I’m getting it done most days — and it’s been a great energy and productivity booster.
The toughest part about writing is often just getting started — and this way, I’m getting the painful bit out of the way before my day conspires to distract me.
“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” – Ernest Hemingway
December is tricky
For most of us, this is a tricky month for habits. We have all kinds of distractions and family commitments, and our schedules are completely out of whack.
That’s actually what makes the “write every day” prompt helpful. If you can get into the habit of doing a little bit of creative work even when you’re distracted, you’ll be in perfect shape next year to tackle all kinds of creative growth.
So, if you want to play along (I hope you do!), give yourself permission to be Highly Imperfect. You’ll miss your prompts a few times, and that’s okay. Think of these last few weeks of the year as an on-ramp to accelerated creative productivity for 2017.
Next year’s prompts
I’ve mapped out my preliminary ideas for what we’ll work on next year … but I won’t reveal all of them today. That would spoil the surprise! (And keep me from swapping in something better that might occur to me …)
But I will tell you that I’ve put together a combination of copywriting techniques, creativity boosters, creative writing advice, and tactics to make your content more effective. They’re all areas of focus that have improved my own writing, and that I’ve seen work for many other writers.
We’ll work on them as a community — and you can jump off and on the bus whenever you want. Or, if you want to decide right now to commit to all 12 pairs of prompts, you’ll get even more out of it!
The prompts will build on one another to steadily improve the art, craft, and professionalism of your writing.
Are you in? Let us know in the comments!
If you want to play this month with either the creative prompts, the productivity prompt, or both, let us know in the comments!
In January, we’ll keep the ball rolling with new prompts and more encouragement. I can’t wait to see where you take it.