Years ago, there was a hilarious Staples ad for back to school shopping. Set to the Christmas carol, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” it featured a dad frolicking joyfully through the aisles as the kids looked on in misery. That commercial still tickles me to this day. Since I don’t have kids, you might be asking what this has to do with me. Or anything, really.
Here it is: Back to school is my favorite time of the year. It was when I was a kid, and it is now. Only I was the dad, tossing stuff into the cart with abandon, not the kids looking on in horror. I loved going back to school. It was a time to reinvent myself, start over, and work with a clean slate. Granted, that enthusiasm usually dimmed within a couple of weeks once the reality of homework set in, but for a brief moment every August, I was this guy:
Nowadays, of course, I’m not actually going back to school. (I strung it out as long as I could with graduate school, but all good things must come to an end.) But back to school time still represents a time to start fresh. More than New Year’s, for me, because New Year’s is cold and dark and the last thing I want to do is try anything new. All I want to do on January first is take down the Christmas crap and crawl back in bed. Or watch football.
But August/September… That’s a different story. Since I still have an unhealthy addiction to paper products, the back to school displays/sales are like catnip for me. New binders! Five subject notebooks! Pencils! Index cards! Sticky notes! Oh, it’s like turning a drug addict loose in a pharmacy. But beyond acquiring a closetful of paper, back to school time feels like getting permission to try new things.
Sure, I know that I can try new things any time I want to. I’m an adult. There’s no need to wait for a magical date on the calendar. But there’s a pull to this time of year that’s ingrained in me from childhood. It’s the time to start over. Blank, pristine notebooks, fresh pencils un-chewed and still in possession of their erasers, and binders with un-cracked spines call to me and say, “You can achieve something this year! You can put the past behind you and start over!”
It’s not always true. Starting over in school really was easier. You had new teachers, new classes, and sometimes a whole new school. You could go from being a C student to an A student if you worked hard enough. In the adult world that’s not so easy. You still have the same job, the same boss, and the same baggage you had in July. But still, there’s nothing wrong with expanding your horizons, trying some new things, and working to become the person/writer/author you want to be.
With respect to a writing career, here are some of the ways to bring that back to school feeling into your work.
- Stock up on those paper products! I know not everyone shares my love of analog, but if you do, there’s no better time to get your supplies. The selection is at its best and the prices are cheap. (Those penny sales at the office supply stores are amazing!)
- Try something new with your blog/website. If your blog/website is feeling stale, switch it up. Change the theme, or change your posting schedule. Intermix new types of content. Try video or podcasting, for example. Tackle new topics that you’re passionate about, even if they don’t seem to “fit” with what you’ve always done.
- Literally go back to school. Many extension courses and community college classes start this time of year. Sign up for a class in marketing or writing. Take something that would be of interest to your characters. Learn a new trade, like technical writing, screenwriting, or writing for the web.
- Write in a new genre or form. Similar to starting a new class in school and learning something new, try to master a new genre or form. Try fan-fiction or poetry. Maybe flash fiction or scriptwriting. Pick something you’ve always wanted to try and give it a whirl. If it sucks, you don’t have to tell anyone.
- Try different marketing tactics. If your marketing efforts need a boost, try some new things. Increase your appearances and networking. Try new advertising platforms. Work on book trailers or a YouTube channel. Start a newsletter or give your old one a facelift. Maybe you need more giveaways or better swag. If it doesn’t work, so be it. At least you’ll have tried.
- Work on your social media presence. Try to come out of your shell a bit. Post more often. Interact with people who share your interests outside of writing. Get more interactive in your posts (think polls, AMA’s, etc.). Make sure your profiles are up to date and maybe refresh your headers/banners or your author photo. Try a new platform. Start a Facebook group, or try Google hangouts.
- Read more/different things. Fill your creativity tank and learn how others write by reading more and different things. Books, magazines, comics, the classics… anything is fair game. Commit to turning off the TV more often and reading.
- Join a new group. Going back to school was always good for meeting new people. Do the same now. Join a new writer’s group or book club. Find people who share your interests outside of writing and join up. Meeting new people opens you up to new ideas and networking opportunities. Plus, it can be fun and educational.
- Clean/organize your writing space. Give your office or desk a good cleaning. Purge the junk from your hard drive and file cabinets. Get organized. Look through old projects and see if there’s anything salvageable. A clean space can make you happier and more productive.
- Find a new place to work. This may be easier said than done, but maybe it’s time to look for a new writing space if your current one isn’t making you happy. Maybe you can repurpose a closet or bedroom instead of writing in the living room. Or, if you want to go big, build a new room onto the house, or build a cottage/glorified shed out back. Maybe you’ll do better out among people at the library or a coffee shop. Experiment and find your best place.
- Work on your brain and your body. You don’t have to wait for New Year’s to get into shape, eat healthier, or improve your brain. Everything you do to take care of yourself makes you more productive. Everything is easier when you feel good, including being creative.
- Find a new guru/mentor. You may be able to find someone who resonates with you by taking a class, but there are other ways to find people who motivate you. Look for blogs that inspire you. Read writing advice books by new authors. Go to conferences. Watch TED talks or listen to new podcasts. Find someone who sparks a desire in you to do better and be better. Find someone who is doing what you want to do and doing it well. Draw on these people for motivation and inspiration.
Ah, back to school time. I love you so. You truly are the most wonderful time of the year!
(Photo courtesy of Wokandapix)