Monday, May 18, 2015

Seven Things I Know About Writing

Hi everyone. I know I have let my blog drift away for a few months now. I was off to a pretty good start at the beginning of the year and then, well, you know how the song goes . . . life is what happens when you're busy making other plans (or something like that, but you know what I'm talking about).

Anyway, my friend (and fellow Lake Forest College alumna) Jessica, over at Little Merry Sunshine, tagged me to write about "seven things I know about writing." (By the way, when you get the chance, please go read her blog!)

Well, what better way to get back into blogging than to write about seven things I know about writing, right?!

Here we go. . .

1. Be prepared.

Whether you're writing for work or school or for fun, make sure you get organized and you have everything you need before you sit down and start writing.

If I'm going to sit down and write at the library or a cafe or at a desk/office, I need to make sure I've got my preferred writing implements: a nice notebook (this is what I use) and my favorite pen . . . or sometimes, a laptop and power cord and a table near an outlet.

This may seem obvious, right? Sometimes, in my rush to get to work (especially if I have a good idea I want to get written down right away (!!) before it disappears), I've occasionally forgotten one of these things, and then I spend a few minutes distractedly getting back into the writing mood because I've had to make due with something else (like a pencil and the back of an envelope). 

2. Make yourself comfortable.

The way I make myself comfortable is by making sure I have my beverage of choice (and maybe a snack) within reach. Oftentimes, I'll have a reusable water bottle filled with ice cold water (it's gotta be super cold) and also an iced coffee (usually during the day, because I need the caffeine).  In the evening, I might have an ice cold bottle of beer (but that depends on whether I'm writing for school or for fun). For a snack? I always seem to gravitate towards Chex Mix. It helps me concentrate. Liv calls it "brain food" - that snack, whatever it may be, that helps one concentrate. Seems like I really like need Chex Mix if I'm writing something scholarly.

Also, if you know the room you're going to be writing in will be either chilly or warm, make sure you're dressed appropriately. There's a room in the University of Iowa library that I liked studying in, but it always seemed overheated, so I always made sure I wore a short-sleeved shirt (underneath a sweatshirt I could take off) if I knew I'd be in there.

Make sure you've used the restroom ahead of time, adjusted your chair just the way you like it, have your music (on your smart phone, iPod, computer, CD player . . . ) and earphones (if you're in a public area) . . . or no music at all (whatever you feel like), and get everything situated just so. Get all these possible distractions taken care of before they become distracting, so you're not interrupting yourself later.

Seems like getting all these things just right will turn into "chair glue" and keep you writing for a good length of time. I know it helps me remain in my chair (hence, "chair glue") for a while.

3. Want to be a better writer? Read. Read a little more. And then read some more.

By the way, Jessica also mentions point this in her blog post. (If you haven't already, go read her post after you finish reading my post.)

Read a variety of things: fiction (mystery, suspense, drama. . . ), non-fiction (biographies/autobiographies. . .), historical fiction, newspapers, blogs, National Geographic . . .whatever seems interesting. Try reading stuff that you may not find so interesting.

Why? Among many other things, reading helps get your little gray cells going. It helps you figure out what you like about written works, what you don't like. It can improve your vocabulary, help you learn things, and well written stories can take you on awesome adventures.

And, besides, if you're going to write accurate non-fiction (or believable fiction, for that matter), you're going to end up doing research, which is going to require reading. 

4. Be true to your own voice.

I love reading mysteries. Suspense, thrillers, action, whodunnits - these are what usually draw my attention. Sure, I enjoy reading other genres, but the "What could possibly happen next?!" types of books are the ones I really enjoy. Of course, I have certain favorite authors in these genres. And if one of my (living) favorites comes out with a new book, I'm right there at the bookstore or library waiting to dive in.

However, don't try to compare your own writing to your favorite author's writing, or you'll just get frustrated. Well, *I* get frustrated, when I catch myself comparing my writing to, say, Tony Hillerman's or Nelson Demille's. My writing could never compare to any of my favorite authors' differing styles. (If you were wondering, some of my very favorites include Tony Hillerman, Robert B. Parker, Nelson DeMille, Sara Paretsky, Sherman Alexie. . . . )

Find what's beckoning you to write and go with the flow.

I had a professor in a graduate literature/writing class that I am very good at creative non-fiction. It seems to come naturally to me, so that's what I've been working on lately. 

5. Writer's block happens and 6. Take a break.

These two go together (for me, anyway). I take writer's block as a signal that it's time to take a not-too-long break. Take a walk. Swim some laps. Take a kick-boxing or spinning or yoga class. Tai Chi. Whatever.

I've found that just getting up and moving around helps me get my little gray cells back on track.

I like trying a different art form (because, really, writing is its own art form). I usually like photography, even if it's "just" Instagram. Practicing another art form usually helps dislodge my writer's block. Even going to a museum and looking at art helps.

(And sometimes, just getting up and staring out the window for a little bit helps.) 

Then I can come back from my break with some good ideas.

Another thing about taking a break: when I finish writing a piece, I always like taking a break, usually no more than 24-36 hours, before going back and doing a final proofreading. I like completely stepping away and letting my brain not think about the piece at all. That way, when I go back to proofread, I'm looking at it with fresh eyes.

7. Enjoy the journey.

It should be fun (mostly). Once I get an idea and I'm in "the zone," I can lose myself in writing and not realize a couple hours have gone by (if I'm on a roll, and haven't run out of Chex Mix).

For me, finishing a piece is very satisfying. 

By the way, if you ever catch me writing, or, more accurately, staring out the window, I might be daydreaming about White Sands National Monument.

1 comment:

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

It has been a while! These are excellent tips.

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