Do you know that feeling when you get so immersed in your writing that you just keep going and going and no longer care what time it is or what else is waiting for you to do? Later you’ll have to worry about revising, editing, marketing, and all that blah blah blah, but if you haven’t experienced it, let me tell you that when the writing flies on its own, it’s the best.
How do you get there? You allow time, you prepare yourself and your tools, you warm up, and then you write. Do this as often as you can, and it will happen.
This morning, I got up late and was more inclined to stare at the TV coverage of the mass shooting at a local shopping mall than to write another page of my novel. But the newscasters were getting repetitious, and my work was waiting. Blessed with being able to stay home most mornings, I treat my writing like a job. I shower, eat breakfast and get dressed, then report to my bedroom office with a mug of hot tea. I go through the mail, pay bills that are due soon, check email and various websites, then get down to business.
I start by sitting on the sofa with my dog and my notebook. I journal, I write a little poetry, I jot down ideas for future writing projects. Sometimes it’s total junk, but it’s writing. Then, warmed up, I go back to my computer, silence the Internet, and bring my current project onto the screen. I read what I wrote yesterday, tweaking it here and there, and then I start writing.
Today was one of those days when I didn’t feel like it, and yet, after a page of whining about why I couldn’t write, I wrote a poem about the shooting. Then I wrote 1,600 words on my novel, so excited about the scene unfolding before me that I didn’t want to stop. If I didn’t remember a detail from past pages or needed to look up a word, I marked it and went on. If something didn’t feel quite right, I marked it and went on. I had planned to give the book just 15 minutes because I have a lot to do today, but two hours passed and I didn’t care. It was fun, the most fun a writer can have.
Don’t feel like writing? Can’t get started? Get yourself organized, write a little junk and see if that doesn’t lead to something good. Don’t promise yourself magic or hours of productivity. It scares the muse away. Just write a little something and see what happens. If you do this often enough, the time will come when you’ll feel the story taking over, sort of like cruise control on the car. Keep writing and enjoy the ride.
How do you prepare for a day’s writing? It seems there are as many ways as there are writers. Where, what and how you write makes a difference. When I worked at newspapers, I didn’t have much time for messing around. Deadlines loomed, and the guy in the next cubicle was concentrating on his own writing. I’d lay out my notes around the keyboard, type a heading, and then go to the bathroom.
Wait, what? Go to the bathroom? Yes, for two reasons. I didn’t want to have to run to the ladies’ room once I got rolling, and I needed a minute to organize my thoughts. Often my opening lines came to me in that three-minute trip.
It doesn’t have to be the bathroom. One could go down the hall for coffee, or, if working at home, do what I just did and put away some stray clothes and start getting dressed. I was putting on my pants when I decided what to write about. Some people do yoga, some pray, some knit, some go for a walk. It doesn’t matter what you do to prepare to write, but your brain has to be free to think. No media, no talking, no texting. I have closed my Internet connections, opened a fresh screen on my computer, and placed hot tea on the warmer beside me. I’m ready.
I don’t have a deadline today, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to write. I have plenty of half-finished projects and lots of notes scribbled on scratch paper that I can expand into stories or poems. I can always outline a new article or a query to get myself an assignment.
Writing muscles need regular workouts. You’ve all heard the advice to “write every day.” Actually it doesn’t have to be every day. Maybe you’re a Monday, Wednesday, Friday kind of writer or just weekends. That’s okay. Set a schedule and stick to it, whether you do it before work, while the kids are at school, or when everyone else is asleep. People rarely understand when you say “I have to work” or “I have to write.” Do it anyway.
Like an athlete, a writer needs to warm up. Creativity gurus Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg and others recommend “morning pages.” Just write whatever’s in your head. Don’t worry about whether it’s beautiful or correct or publishable. If you can’t think of anything, you can even fill a page with “I can’t think of anything to write.” But honestly, there’s always something. Write about what’s bothering you. Write about something you read or saw on TV. Describe something that happened to you yesterday.
One exercise I’ve been doing this week came from Poets & Writers’ series of prompts. They credit this one to poet Linda Gregg. Every day for a week, you briefly describe six things you see each day. They can be absolutely ordinary things to which you usually don’t pay attention. At the end of the week, pick two of those things and write a poem about them. I have been amazed at how many things there are to notice in my house, especially my living room. I can already see that I’m going to write about more than two and it won’t necessarily be poetry. There are essays, articles and short stories in those things I’m seeing, things like the flute I never play, the tambourine I bought in Portugal, the stained carpet, or the dog sleeping on her smelly blanket on the floor.
I’m never going to run out of things to list. If I exhaust one room or even my whole house, I’ll simply change location. Meanwhile, having filled several pages of my journal, I’m warmed up and ready to tackle the day’s writing project. As soon as I go to the bathroom.
Get comfortable and get started. Write.