Before I start I want to mention the book I just finished, Telling Time: Angels, Ancestors, and Stories by Nancy Willard, a wonderful collection of essays about writing. It’s not so much a how-to as reflections. I recommend it to anyone high school and above. You can certainly try it if you’re younger, but I think it will have more meaning later on.
On November 23, 2010, Mya wrote, Homework load seems to increase every year through high school, and though I badly want to write, sometimes I can't seem to find the time. So I was wondering, how do you organize your writing time? And there is also the fact real life can drain so much energy that makes you too tired to type a single word. How do you get inspired once more, and relax into the mood?
I don’t have the tiredness problem. I have lots of energy. For that, my suggestions are mostly general health ones, like getting enough sleep (not always possible), eating sensibly, etc., etc. The only other thought is to journal. If real life is getting in the way, it may be helpful to write about what’s going on. Vent. Scream and rant on the page. Then you may find you’ve cleared space for your creative work.
A few years ago my long-time critique buddy got very sick. She’s better now, but she had a brain injury and isn’t writing the way she used to and can’t evaluate my work anymore either. Aside from the sadness of this, her absence has slowed me down. She and I used to meet weekly, and I always wanted to have work to show her, which was a goad to keep me going. I’ve written several books since she and I stopped sharing, but it’s been harder.
Next week I’m starting with a new critique pal, which I hope will help me the way my friend used to.
So that’s one strategy, to hook up with another writer or join a writing group, which I’ve written about in earlier posts. In order for this to work, your writing partner needs to be someone encouraging, someone who likes your work. There’s no better incentive than thinking, I can’t wait for him to see this. He’s going to love it. But if your critique-mate is hyper-critical and seems not to admire your work, you may actually write less, and you may regard your sessions together as the equivalent of oral surgery.
When I was starting to write, one of the most helpful books I discovered was Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. It was written almost a century ago, and the language is dated, but the ideas aren’t. At one point the author instructs the reader to set aside a particular fifteen minutes a day for writing. No matter what may come for a week, a month - I don’t remember which - you have to write during that time. Then she tells you to write for fifteen minutes at different times, random times. The idea is to accustom yourself to writing whenever possible in any circumstance and not to depend on a muse or a mood. If you can write only in your office or only when there’s absolute silence, your opportunities narrow. I write in airports, on planes and trains, in hotel rooms. Sometimes it’s hard, like if someone nearby is talking on a cell phone, but usually I can block out the noise.
Dorothea Brande has another suggestion, which I haven’t followed, but which I offer because it’s probably worthwhile, and that is to write right after waking up, before you’ve had your coffee or changed out of your jammies, and especially before you read anything, preferably before you speak to anyone. The idea here is that your mind will be empty of your conventional way of thinking and surprising ideas will pop up.
Mya, I am not good at organizing my writing time. I write while I eat breakfast and while I eat lunch and at night when I have my snack. That’s an hour or so. And then I write in between, but I’m very distractible. If an email comes in, I look at it. People rarely have to wait long for an answer from me. Phone rings, I pick it up. Right now, in addition to working on my next book, I’m preparing two speeches, and tomorrow I’ll spend most of the day on them. I'm not a role model. Better to follow authors who set a page goal for themselves and stick to it. These admirable folk turn out their quota even if they have to stay up till three in the morning to do it, or if they have a fever of 104, or if their furnace dies. Or follow the authors who write for four hours a day, every day.
A book that’s wonderful on the subject of discipline is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (middle school and above). Lamott is eloquent and funny about staying focused and how hard that is. Besides, her writing is a pleasure to read.
Still, whenever there's nothing that seems more pressing, which is often, I write. I take my laptop with me when I think I may have down time, like when I have a doctor's appointment. And in my slow, erratic way I complete books. My publishers and my readers might be happier if I wrote more, and maybe someday I’ll figure out how to do that. Until then, I’m plodding along.
I’m much better at revising. When I’m revising I don’t get up to look out the window every half hour. I stick with it, because I love revising more than I love grinding out a first draft. Revising never lasts long enough; I enjoy it so much I finish it quicker. We’re all different, of course. You may hate revising.
Anyway, the point is to keep writing. If you continue to write, you’ll finish one story and then another and then another, and you’ll build up a body of work, something to be mighty proud of.
Here are some prompts:
∙ Try these exercises based on Dorothea Brande’s book. For the next week, write for fifteen minutes as soon as you wake up. For the week after that, write for fifteen minutes when you get home at the end of your day. And for the following week, write at a variety of times and places for fifteen minutes every day.
∙ There are a zillion books and movies about blocked writers, probably because the authors and screenwriters are writing what they know. It’s your turn. Aster, your main character, is taking a creative writing class and has to write something and can think of nothing. Her failure spills over into other parts of her life: friends, family, pet frog, after-school job, whatever. Write her misery and then decide whether or not to rescue her. Of course you can move this into fantasy, so long as writing is involved. Aster can be a gnome who has to write a book about mining.
Have fun, and save what you write!