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How do you build a writing practice? How do you maintain it? How do you thrive from it?
The daily practice of writing sounds like the easiest thing in the world to develop. But it’s not. We sit down with an idea and motivation, and you write… right? If only it were that easy for the vast majority of us. What many learn, fast, is that the open-ended act of writing is like running wild in a field. If we don’t create some structure to measure and pace ourselves, we will burn out and topple to the ground long before a book, essay, article or other project is complete.
Over the years, I have found 10 approaches that combine to form a solid way to write consistently and productively. Since I am presenting these as part of a workshop Thursday night at the Crittenden County (KY) Library Writing Workshop Series, I thought I would try to stir up some office rearranging, journal writing and brainstorming with you today! These aspects of the craft of writing work for writers of all levels and genres, and are designed to support the writing practice for both the short- and long-term.
1) SETTING: A Writing Environment that works for you
Does your writing office, room or nook work for you? Do you have enough plants, pictures, inspirational sayings, natural light, furnishings and other adornments? Are your key reference books nearby—a dictionary, thesaurus, style manual, maybe a Writer’s Market? Any background music? Do your desk or table and chair work for you? Create an environment that feeds and inspires you.
2) PRACTICING: Turn Your Journal into an idea goldmine
All working writers should keep two journals, or at least be of two minds about their journal: one to recount experiences, feelings and observations of the day; the other to experiment with writing techniques and approaches, perhaps even different genres, and generate ideas. I always tell workshop participants that the journal is the working writer’s “chemistry lab.” It’s also a potential goldmine of ideas.
3) RESEARCHING: Learn It, Note It, Know It, Master It – in your own words
This is key to the writing craft. Research your subject so thoroughly that you can masterfully write about it in your own words. Research different points of view, different perspectives. Read books. Interview experts or knowledgeable people. When you take notes, jot down how this piece of research could work into your narrative, character or subject. Think “applicability” when researching.
4) PREPARING: Your Game Plan
How are you going to write your book, travelogue, essay, story or series of journal entries? After writing freely for awhile, it’s time to create a plan that fulfills your objective of finishing. Which hours work best for you to write? Can you write every day or every other day? How much to write each day? Create an outline or chapter summary that you follow until it’s finished — then pull out the next outline or summary. Break down your work into day-sized pieces.
5) PROCEEDING: Daily writing schedules that leave you eager to continue the next day, and not burned out
Create a daily writing schedule that works for your level of concentration and energy. Some people can write six hours of new material daily; others can only last two or three hours. Set a schedule that is write for you. Take the outline or chapter summary mentioned above, and finish each day at a place where you can’t wait to resume the next day. Author-artist Henry Miller called this “finishing hot.”
6) MAINTAINING: How to maintain Writer’s Mind 24/7 and, thus, momentum when working on particular books or projects
This is my favorite part of the writing process. When I write a book, my mind immerses into that world and subject 24/7. The world seems sharper; my senses are more acute. There is so much you can do with the 18 to 20 hours not spent writing the new material. Edit your past day’s work. Turn post-writing walks or exercise into different workouts, turning over plot or subject matter in your mind. Jot notes in your journal — and work them out with mind-mapping or other brainstorming techniques. Observe the world around you for material you can write. Watch your dreams to see what they might present.
7) TRUSTING: Trust your intuitive writer’s mind to get down the best material every day
Trust is crucial for all writers. We must fully trust what our deeper minds and hearts, and our intuitive faculties, present us as we write. We must also trust ourselves to get everything down and not keep editing and censoring—especially when in a writing session. Most importantly, let your intuitive mind help put your stories together, feed them, and conduct your characters’ “conversations”. This is when great writing happens. It’s like skiing down a hill and resisting all “controlling mind” warnings to slow down—knowing that the faster you go (within reason), the more control you truly have … and the more complete your experience. It’s all about trust.
8) DEVELOPING: Spin off and develop new ideas while continuing to work on your main project
This step intermingles with Step 6. When I’m writing a book, I put notebooks and note pads all over my home and office. I also tape a sheet of quadrille (small-squared) paper next to my keyboard. Every time an idea pops up for another piece of writing, whether a poem or new book idea, I write it down as an image, note or sentence. At most, I’ll scribble down a paragraph or two. Then back to the project at hand. By allowing yourself those few seconds to honor the ideas, you will always have new writing material for that next project — and you will enjoy a steady stream of ideas, thanks to the law of reciprocity: you reap what you sow. Entertain and jot down all ideas — then sow them later.
Another tip: find blogs in your subject matter, and write guest blogs to illustrate specific areas. Besides keeping you on task, you’ll also be building your all-important writer’s platform in case you want to sell your work — or are selling into an audience different than the one that has read your works in the past.
9) FEEDING: Keeping your mind and body open, energized and flexible
Many writers forget about taking care of themselves. They’re going to dig in, grind it out, throw their sleep patterns asunder, eat atrociously, and fight the ultimate battle to write that book. Writing is more of a marathon than a sprint; pacing and nourishment are vital. But there’s more. When working on a project, feed your mind by cross-reading in different genres, visiting art or sculpture galleries or museums, listening to music that expands and enlivens you, taking long walks, bike rides or runs, cooking new dishes, engaging in rich conversations, going to poetry readings or concerts, and writing letters.
10) FINISHING: Steps to finish — every time
Every year, many thousands of young boys enter Boy Scouts. Most think they will become Eagle Scouts—the highest honor. Less than 2% get there. I would guess that book writing carries the same percentage—2% of all manuscripts are written to completion. The key to finishing is to keep you and your writing fresh, turn each day into bite-sized pieces, and be consistent and disciplined. And be ready to get ultra-focused when you near the end. Write every day that you can. Expand that word “can” into more and more days. Follow the steps listed above. Start by finishing what you set out to do that day. Then string your days together until finished. When you finish the first draft, let it sit for a few days, then proceed to revise and edit it. Give yourself mini-breaks, often. Perhaps most importantly, don’t be too attached to your manuscript. There is a time for it to be done, a time the child becomes an adult and moves out (hopefully!). Finish it, and move on to your next work.
REMEMBER: The Write Time Writing Contest is now underway! $500 in cash prizes, plus publishing opportunities. Deadline is April 15. Check the Word Journeys Website – or the January 22 entry of this blog – for complete details.