“The May sunshine was cold and sterile, contrary to everything God intended May to be, but then everything on the drive to Cranberry, the drive he’d made hundreds of times before, was foreign and unfamiliar, including his own heartbeat.” – Dennis McFadden, “Forget-Me-Nots,” Jimtown Road
I recently had the delight of speaking on a panel at the Chicago Writers Conference with the fabulous Chicago writers Christine Sneed and Miles Harvey. Our panel was succinctly called: The Process. The Chicago Writers Conference–in case you don’t know, but you should–is a very fine one that has a particular emphasis on the business of writing and getting your work out there and noticed. So we three (Christine, Miles, and I) got to step back from that a bit and talk about getting the work on the page. Here are some of the ideas I shared.
- Some writers suggest you treat your writing like a job, but I would say do all you can to avoid that. Who gets pleasure when they think they have a job to do? I love writing, and I have a number of paying writing gigs that I also like. Still, just knowing that those paid gigs are like a job waiting for me to quit lollygagging and get to work on makes me avoid them until I can’t anymore. Make your writing fun. Think of it as purposeful play.
- Make your writing play a joyful habit. (21 days.) David Huddle’s The Writing Habit has good advice.
- Make room for your writing. Set up a writing space just as you like it, or go somewhere comfortable and quiet (or noisy if that’s your bag) and get writing. Make it so when you find that place, when you come to it, you start yearning to write.
- Make room (time) in the day. Try setting an alarm to remind you that it is time to write, and a timer to let you know when you can get up from the desk. Be reasonable with these. If you are not a morning person, don’t think writing will get you out of bed. If you need to get up and move around every half hour or fifteen minutes, or ten, don’t make yourself sit at the desk for longer than that. Building your writing stamina muscles, just like building other muscles, takes patience and practice. Caveat: learn the difference between needing to take a break and avoiding the work.
- Create your rituals. I love good pens and journals. When I see my journal on the coffee table, I want to write. I usually play three games of Free Cell on the computer before I start to write on the keyboard. I walk in quiet or use the machines in the gym without headphones or the TV on; I think about my stories, I talk in my head. The rituals can feel special and important. Sacred, perhaps. And this sense of importance can fuel your writing.
- Always carry a pen and paper. Write in your journal. Ideas slip away. You’ll say you won’t forget it, but… All words on the page count, even these jottings. Still, you need to commit to finishing things, not just scribbling ideas for future projects.
- Unplug, disable, turn off all distractions.
- Take it a little at a time. Anne Lamott calls this “small assignments.” Do not let the immensity of a potential project overwhelm you to the point of paralysis.
- Plan your rewards and stick to them. 2 pages? A glass of wine. 5? A piece of chocolate cake. 100? New shoes. You get the idea.
- “Don’t get it write, get it written.” –James Thurber. Turn off your perfectionism, or at least put it on hold until the words are on the page.
- Find prompts and jump starts to make sure you consider the narrative possibility and potential in everything, every day. (Check out the hundreds of prompts on this site.)
- Make a writing buddy–someone whose work you admire and who is both kind and demanding of yours. (Hi, Gail! Hi, Jana!) Plan a getaway, even if that is simply taking turns to write in one another’s homes.
- If a writing project has gone stale, put it aside for a few weeks. Then have someone else read it aloud to you. How does it sound now? Ready to get back to it?
- If you have left your characters alone for too long, write your way into their dreams. What did they dream on the last night you wrote their stories, after you finished telling the story up to that point?
- If much time has passed since you last sat down with this work, read what you have again, and then set it aside, and have your characters narrate a summary: “Previously, in chapter 1…” Like they do on TV.
- Hit a wall? Look up from the page, stand up from the desk. Don’t write. Do something else, let your mind work on its own while you do the dishes, do a silly drawing, take a walk, knit a pair of socks.
- Don’t let too much time pass without writing, you may scare yourself off. If you can’t face the piece you left behind just yet, write something else. A letter, a blog post, a “how to,” a haiku, a Twitter story. A small assignment that you can finish relatively easily, reminding yourself that finishing is something you are capable of.
- Read. Read. Let other writers remind you how wonderful the world of writing can be, let them invite you into that world.
→Write on, my friends. And as always, thanks for reading! – PMc←