I’m not one for making new year’s resolutions, but I am one for knowing when new habits need to be made and old ones left to the way side. It’s been a while since I have written on my blog, or in any form, excluding one very well written resume that has yet to land me a job, so may not be that well written. Returning to writing after such a long pause feels like learning how to walk again. With little to no reading outside of textbooks, combined with almost no time writing, it is hard to get back into connecting two sentences together let alone an entire post or story. I dropped out of my creative writing class to pick up more shifts at work to fund two projects; Pay Rent and That Bill’s Due Already?!, both of which involve more time and money than I would like. I also enrolled for a yoga teacher training course that sucked up all of my weekends, two of my week days, and even more money I’d like to not think about. The sessions I would normally reserve for reading and writing turned to times of sleeping and existing.
But for all the dark forces that drove me away there were many times I got in my own way. I had the whole weekend off to write last week but instead I deep cleaned my apartment of dishes, dust, and cat hair, mopped the entire apartment – the usual activities an ‘aspiring writer’ does to stop herself from becoming a ‘legit writer’. But I do walk around my home barefoot feeling a sense of accomplishment now.
If I have learned anything in this time is that both reading and practicing writing are an integral part of my process and this blog is a great way for me to tune in to that.
To get out of this writing slump I thought I’d wipe the slate clean and set some small, achievable goals (low expectations=success) that will improve my writing habits and maybe help other writers who are stuck in that place too. Some of these I’ve done before or am currently doing, while others are new goals I’m setting for myself.
Write as soon as you wake up
But first, coffee.
We are the most productive in the morning when unwashed and fresh from a night’s rest, while the house is still quiet and distractions have not set in yet – this is the best time to write. I’m sometimes guilty of waiting for inspiration to hit before scrambling for a pen to write a thought on the back of my hand before the idea slips my mind. Writing first thing sets a discipline of doing it in every situation as opposed to when I magically feel the creative desire to, which is important when you’re trying to upgrade from writing as a hobby. Dollar dollar bills ya’ll. Of course it might not always be possible to write as soon as you wake up, I work from 7am to 7pm a few days of the week so waking up earlier to write would be absurd. Productive, but absurd. So when you can’t write first thing try the next habit…
Kryptonite to writer’s block.
The first piece of advice I ever got from my Amazing creative writing professor is to write daily. Saving as little as ten minutes a day for writing can be the little nugget you need to spark a story, add to one you’re working on, or just act as a time to write something silly and fun. In order to write we need to practice writing, continually exercising the craft and giving up the need to feel like writing before we do. I try not to focus on the same story I’ve been losing sleep over; I keep a journal or start something new from a prompt online (with or without any intention of finishing) – I just write! The best thing about prompts is that nothing may come of many of them and they are completely random, but every once in awhile you look back and find a particular phrase, sentence, situation, or character that fits perfectly into a current story or sparks a completely new idea to work on.
Pen and paper are friends
Word should have a Writer’s Clippy that prompts Are you sure you want to rewrite this sentence again?
When typing 40 words a minute where I can erase and rewrite sentences with little effort it’s easy for me to nit pick and edit to the nth degree. There’s no option to do this with pen and paper other than ripping out papers and starting all over again, and once you’re in that nitpicking zone it usually leads to getting stuck and not being able to move forward. Some of the best and most enjoyable things I have written have been in my notebook because I had no choice but to carry on without changing anything outside of spelling, letting whatever came into my mind unfold onto paper and not worrying about where it was going. Also, you won’t be tempted to open new tabs and browse online.
There is one exception to this which is in blog or article writing where organization reigns over creativity.
Keep a clutter/distraction free area designated for writing
You might need to leave home to do this.
This area is not on your couch while your mother/wife/boyfriend/children try to carry a conversation with you. Once my desk got too cluttered to clean (completely possible) I took to the next best thing – a nearby coffee shop. Coffee shops aren’t mandatory but finding a place with outlets, food and drink options, and plenty of seating and tables so you can stay a while is the ideal setting. Libraries are also good options because they are quiet, but a little worse off since most will not allow food or drinks other than water (coffee induces 99.9% of all novel ideas), so you’ll have to leave to eat and then come back. You won’t come back.
Another plus to leaving home to write is for a change of scenery and a new source of external stimulation and chances to people watch, picking up nuances in characters and plots. That spot in your office space, the one you stare blankly at for inspiration to fall from whenever you hit that ‘wall’, is not going to help you my friend.
But if you are lucky enough to have a little nook at home to write in, choose a time to write, lock the door, and throw away the key.
Read daily, all genres
I can not emphasize the importance behind this.
Yes, if you know you want to write surrealist science fiction read all of the H.G. Wells to make yourself giddy, but also read outside of that genre to learn how plots of mysteries evolve compared to science fiction, utilize traits from other genres in your fiction and see how well it works, see and understand the choices authors make and decide why you do or don’t like them or why you would or would not have made the same choices. All of this will help you learn how to look at and critique your own work and well as others.
Reading daily reinforces writing daily. Times when you can’t think of anything to write about you might pick up a book and grab an idea from it.
Join a writing group
I’ve found an insane amount of literary hubs, meetups, and free/donation-based/minimal fee workshops and storytelling nights that it’s ludicrous I have not taken advantage of most of them until recently.
I joined a writing meetup a few weeks ago that meets every Saturday morning and found out that I do well in groups. It may be the company of fellow writers who you can look up from your paper to and without more than a eye twitch and they nod I know. I feel your pain. It could be the breakfast, calm atmosphere and laughter. Or the structured time to work on writing while being surrounded by scribbling pens and clicking keyboards thinking This sounds magical. Or the closed eyes and curious ears listening intently to you read, then giving encouraging and useful feedback in return.
You meet writers who become friends, learn other styles since groups usually have many kinds of writers, you get hear yourself read your own work out loud, and get some writing done in the process. Win. Win. Win. Win.
Have fun with it. If you’re like me you’re not getting paid to write but will still continue to do so even if you don’t, so there’s no need to ruin a good thing.
I always want to find new ways to improve in my writing, what are some habits you’re trying to pick up?