Eight Things Every Writer Should Keep in Mind
PORTLAND – The other day I was walking and running along the trails in Portland and thinking about this blog and trying to come up with an idea that would be useful and interesting for those who happened to stumble upon this post. After a few minutes in the cold, listening to a podcast interview with a writer who is now in his early 90s, it came to me. Write about the affair. For whatever reason, I love writing and the creative process.
In some sense, I have always been infatuated by a good story (just ask my family). And as I huffed and puffed my way up and down the hills of the eastern end of the city, I was struck by just how important this has become for me. Last year I completed a graduate program in journalism and new media and I am now finishing my first novel. What’s sort of funny and amusing to me is that putting words on a blank page, creating an original story that seems to flow from somewhere deep within me, is both the hardest work I have ever done and the most satisfying.
Every writer I know seems to have a process, a set of rules or ideas they follow, a way in which they feel most comfortable when they are trying desperately to have the words on the page fairly represent the ideas in their head. Here are my rules, my process for writing. I hope this helps, but better yet, I hope I always keep them in mind and continue my journey as a writer.
1. Your mind and your body are connected – exercise them both. I can’t tell you how many times I have been able to solve a problem or come up with an idea while walking, running, or riding my bike. For me, the rush of endorphins released during exercise have a profound impact on my creativity and my ability to think more clearly.
2. Practice, practice, practice. – A regular schedule seems to help in every aspect of my life, and that is certainly true with my writing. I try to write at the same time each day. Yes, I am one of those people who think you should sit in front of the computer or notebook and just work it out. Some days seem better than others, and occasionally, there are those fantastic moments where everything seems to come rushing out of my fingertips. But more than anything, having persistence and a regular schedule pays dividends.
3. Read the work of other writers. – Short stories, poetry, novels, nonfiction, news articles – as my father said to me when I was just a child, “It really doesn’t seem to matter what you read, as long as you read. You’ll find your way.” Read and read regularly.
4. Join a writing group. – Writing, by its nature, is an isolating occupation. For some writers, myself included, I seem to like and relish the solitude. I don’t mind being alone, and often, I prefer it to the company of others. It’s quiet. I can work, and when I’m finished, I have an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. But writers need readers, at least I do. A writing group that meets regularly (have I mentioned schedules) can serve as an invaluable sounding board for your work, especially if they treat your work honestly.
5. Find your first reader. Vonnegut said a writer should work to please only one person, and I believe to a certain extent that’s true, but in the end, the work is intended to be read. Find a first reader who will give you honest, clear, thoughtful feedback. It helps if the reader has read several of your pieces. They will talk about your voice, the tone, your style – the elements of your work that define you as an artist. They are invaluable. Cherish them.
6. Remove yourself from the world. As a writer, by nature, you are a keen observer and listener. Words, dialects, phrases, feelings, sights, and sounds all seem to swirl around you as you travel through the day. But to escape to the page, you’ll need to remove yourself from the stimuli. Some writers simply withdraw inside their own skull, others need to physically remove themselves and avoid contact. Writers are not defined by a simple phrase or idea, and because of this, they find a way to separate themselves from their surroundings and focus on their work.
7. Organize your world. Like snowflakes or explosions, no two writers are exactly the same. Having said that, many writers benefit from organizing their thoughts in some way before they sit in front of their computer. I’ve found that if I try to think about a story based on the scenes in my head, it helps. My outline becomes the sequence of those scenes. More often than I care to admit, these scenes have taken on a life of their own, and I’ve had to review my ideas about a story, chapter, or even novel. But when I come up with a new plan, I sketch it out in the form of an outline. It helps me stay on track, at least for a day or so.
8. This is the one area of your life where it helps to be selfish. – No one can do this for you. It takes time, energy, and effort. In the end, a writer has to live with their own work and most of the writers I’ve spoken with have said they are never really satisfied with their work. But if a writer is dedicated to their craft (think Malcolm Gladwell and 10,000 hours), and is given the gift of time, not only is the work satisfying, in some special cases, it defines you.