Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How to Write Every Day



I wrote this a few weeks ago, but completely forgot to post it. I'm sharing it now, since it's still relevant. Also: I'm almost done reading my first draft, and while there are some obvious holes and glaring mistakes (I may have written the same scene three times in different parts of the book with only minor variations - oops!) overall I feel like the bones are good and I'm looking forward to starting the second draft. More about that later. For now, this: 

As I gleefully reported in my May work-in-progress report, I had my most productive month of writing ever. Every day, without fail, I sat down at  my desk and wrote until I had reached at least 1,000 new words. Most mornings I wrote more, a few times it was a struggle to make the minimum, but at the end of the month I had 47,751 words to call my own, and some of them were actually pretty good. 

Part of the reason I was so proud of this accomplishment is because I've been trying to reach this goal - write every day, work on my craft daily, make art a priority - only to fail, again and again. What made this attempt different? The following five lessons, learned through trial and error. 


1. A room of one's own. Virginia Woolf wrote that "a woman must have money and room of her own if is she is to write fiction." While "money" and "room" are relative terms, it's important to have a sacred space, dedicated to your writing, regardless of gender. I do all my writing at a very nice desk that we bought at a consignment shop when we first moved to North Carolina (conveniently pictured above - imagine that!). It's just big enough for my laptop, a cup of coffee/glass of wine, my notes, and a lamp. It's in the middle of the house, near the kitchen, because I prefer to write in a place where things are happening, rather than locked away in a quiet room. When I sit at my desk and open my laptop, my heart and mind know it's time to get to work. 

2. Pencil it in. My desk and I have a recurring date - every morning, I wake up at 6:00AM, and by 6:20 (after reading a few blogs and checking my email) I open my work-in-progress and start writing. I've tried writing at other times of the day, only to realize that my best work happens before the sun comes up. I think it's because no one else is awake to distract me (at home or on the Internet) and it's early enough that the demands of the day haven't yet reared their ugly head. I have friends who do their best writing late at night, after everyone else has gone to sleep, and I suspect it's for the same reasons. It doesn't matter when you write - just find a time that works most days, and stick with it. 

3. Create a ritual. Sometime during last semester, I discovered the programmable option on our coffee maker, and my writing life was changed forever. Now, every night before bed, I grind the beans, pour the water, and set the coffee to brew at 5:45AM. When I wake up at 6, I can smell the fresh coffee and hear the last gurgles drip into the pot, and I know that as soon as I get up, I can pour myself a cup, add a splash of almond milk, and have that first transformative sip. While a cup of coffee may not seem like an integral part of the creative process, the ritual of drinking coffee at my desk makes those morning pages possible. 

4. Have a plan, set a goal. With this particular project, I've been working with an outline that I wrote a few months ago. Because I always know what scene or moment comes next, I don't waste a lot of time staring at a blank page. It's wonderful, and I highly recommend the outline method! If that's not your style, or if your project defies an outline, you can also take a few minutes at the end of your writing session to jot ideas for the next day, while you're mind is in the zone. I also like to stop writing in the middle of a scene, sometimes even in the middle of a line of dialogue. It helps pull me back into the story the next time I sit down. 

As for goals, right now I'm aiming for 1,000 words a day - more is fine (preferable, even!), but 1,000 is the minimum. Ernest Hemingway wrote 500 words a day; Henry Miller wouldn't start a new project until he'd finished his last one. Having a goal - whether it's a number of pages or a set amount of time in front of your computer - will keep you from quitting early, and push you to be productive. 

5. Show up. This is the most obvious piece of advice, but it's also the hardest. Show up. Just do it. Sit at your desk or in your room or on your bed, open your laptop or your notebook or your journal or your blog, and just start writing things down. Most of it will be terrible, and you'll never show it to anyone, and you might throw it away. But some of it will be pretty good. You'll write a sentence that surprises you with it's truth, dazzles you with it's language. And those sentences, as few and far between as they may be, are the ones that will make you come back tomorrow. 

These are just my tips, the things that work for me. If you have others, share them in the comments. And if you want to read about how people much more accomplished and talented than me spend their days, here are some articles about the daily routines of writers. 

Daily Routines (no longer updated, but the archives are great)

3 comments:

  1. I follow a similar process, except I have organically arrived at a drafting style more like Stephen King describes in his _On Writing_: starting with a character and a central situation/point of tension and letting the characters lead me to any number of discoveries as I go.

    I used to think I was a cafe writer, probably because the notion is so romantic, but insisting upon spending time *at my desk* did wonders for my work.

    When I am actively creating a first draft, I will add 1,000 to my word count when I wrap up for the day, write it on a post it note, and stick that note to the bottom of my monitor so I see my goal as soon as I walk into my office the next morning. It also feels good to exceed it when it's right there, just like when I'm running and I go past the marker where I said I'd turn around and loop back home.

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  2. These are great tips. When you mentioned your goal of writing 1,000 words every day I wondered how you did it, so thanks for sharing this advice! Sometimes I sit down to write a post and just stare at the blank screen, so maybe I need to just write every day to work my writing muscles haha :)

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  3. As a PhD student in my fourth year, this post really resonate with my life. I also wake up at six, but take my breakfast/tea at least until 7h30... And after I go at my desk to write. I need time to relax before. 2-3 mornings/week, I go to my favorite coffee to write for two hours, these are often my best moment, when I'm in the zone ! And sports, a lot, also help to focus.

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