In all the writing classes I teach, this writing lament comes up at least once from a student: “I don’t know where to start.”
Maybe they’ve started something and it didn’t pan out. The story didn’t hold their interest. Or they have this need gnawing at them to write, but they haven’t figured out what to write about.
Most of us have moments of writer’s freeze. Most of us get stuck at some point because we get into a mindset of being too orderly. But the birth of a story or poem or essay is a messy, disorderly act and imposing too much order in the beginning doesn’t work so well when you’re capturing the energy of a first draft.
It begins with letting go of your analytical mind. Ultimately every writer has to find their own way into that well. But identifying your obsessions can be a powerful way to figure out what to write about.
The beauty of writing about your obsessions is that you will fully engage, feel completely alive, and have energy to write to the end. The passionate force of your obsessions turns your writing into a transformative act.
So how do you tap these obsessions? One sure way to open the well of words and ideas is by simply writing. It always starts with moving our fingers on the keys or notebook. And in that act, our deepest fears, desires, and obsessions come to light. Try these ideas: Read more
One of my biggest challenges is staying in the flow of my writing. I find it especially hard to stay in the groove if something interrupts my regular writing practice. Long gaps between writing sessions make it hard to maintain creative momentum.
I’ve been inspired by my friend Mandy who takes pages of her manuscript, or sometimes the whole thing, with her wherever she goes. She says having the pages with her helps her stay connected to her project. She can also take advantage of down time while waiting in a doctor’s office or commuting to her day job.
Mandy uses her breaks at work to read pages, make edits, or just think about where she’ll take her story next. The pages are a constant reminder of how important writing is to her.
Mandy says it’s hard to find quiet time when she gets home at night and is caught up with the demands of her family: fixing dinner, helping children with baths and homework, and getting ready for the next day. So those moments on a break or during a commute are golden for grabbing quality writing and revising time. And on those days when she’s too tired to write, reading the pages maintains her connection to the words.
If you want to create a strong link to your project in process, consider carrying a few chapters with you. Just having your pages close by may be enough to help you stay in your writing groove.
For more writing practice tips, read these posts:
Talent vs hard work: 5 tips for a deliberate writing practice
Don’t beat your head against the wall: Try these tips to develop a daily writing practice
After a year of focusing on my business and taking care of various family members, I’m working on re-developing a daily writing habit. It feels a bit like learning a new job. I notice resistance to the actual act of sitting my bum in my chair and writing. I also notice I’ve developed the attention span of a gnat.
In my life and business, I’m an incredible multitasker. I won’t go into the details in case you’ve read them before (see my post “How to reclaim your life and energy for your art”). But I’ve been finding that multitasking can actually make you less productive—especially if you’re an artist or a writer.
As Heather Sellers states in her book, Chapter after Chapter, writing is slow work. She relates it to the Slow Food Movement that was born to counter fast food chains taking over the world. Slow food is about being conscious of what you put in your mouth, of where your food is coming from, and whose pocket you are lining when you buy your food.
Writing is a conscious art form. Sure, we can whip off an e-mail or a blog post, but poetry, screen plays, and novels take time to develop. Art takes time. During your actual writing time, you can’t multitask, you have to slow down. Sellers says she can type 137 words-per-minute but it doesn’t mean they’ll be good words. It doesn’t mean they’ll be juicy words. She says writing isn’t typing. Read more
Since my life pretty much revolves around writing and reading, it’s only natural that I see just about everything through that lens. So when I read blogger James Clear’s post last week about weightlifting, I quickly saw how his principles of slow, easy gains also apply to writing.
Most people focus on achievement over progress in the gym (and other areas of life), Clear says.
Clear’s blog post especially resonated with me because it came out at the same time my blogging partner Carol had been telling me about a video she watched in which Novelist and TV Writer/Producer Lowell Cauffiel advocated writing five pages a day max instead of large bursts of occasional writing. (She’ll be sharing more about this in an upcoming post.)
Clear says slow progress beats immediate achievement because slow progress adds up fast and is more sustainable. Read more
November is almost here and that means National Novel Writing Month kicks off. If you haven’t heard of it, NaNoWriMo is a month-long writing project in which writers write a 50,000-word draft of a novel in 30 days.
Novels can be any genre or language. Planning and extensive notes are allowed but pre-written material can’t go into the body of the novel for it to count. To complete the project in 30 days, you’ll need to write an average of 1,667 words a day.
A deadline is one of the best incentives to get writing and NaNoWriMo can help writers get into that non-analytical state of mind and write a draft from start to finish, a key step to ultimately finishing a novel.
While most novels are longer than 50,000 words, meeting the goal and “winning,” can mean writing a 50,000-word novel or the first 50,000 words of a novel to be finished later. According to Wikipedia, notable novels of roughly 50,000 words include The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby.
Here are a few tips for writing massive numbers of words in 30 days. Read more
Practice, practice practice. That’s what it takes to be a published writer, says author Anjali Banerjee.
“It’s good to go to the end,” she says. “If you don’t write a manuscript from beginning to end, you might get stuck on the first chapter, rewriting the beginning ad nauseum. Or you might ditch the manuscript altogether and start another one for whatever reason — fear of failure, fear of success, or a difficult problem with the storyline.”
Banerjee has made it to the end of nine published books (and two unpublished ones). Enchanting Lily, her most recent novel, is about a young widow who’s content to hide out in her vintage clothing shop on a Pacific Northwest island until a cat runs in and turns her life upside down. For a deleted scene told from the cat’s point of view, read Banerjee’s guest post at Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries, and More.
Banerjee offers insight and tips for writers: Read more
Instead of fearing imperfection in your work, embrace it. Sometimes we have to get it wrong so we can get it right. I prefer to call it experimentation.
The discipline of any creative pursuit — writing, painting, photography — requires constant trial and error. In fact “errors” are precursors to original ideas. They reveal new directions, the unexpected, a twist.
Even athletes know this. Marathon runner Ryan Hall could have been speaking about writing when he was quoted in a New York Times article about his quest for an Olympic gold medal: Read more