Tag: writing

Create a writing ritual

Before the writing comes the coffee.

I’m a big proponent of the idea that a writer can and should write anywhere, any chance they get. Sentences jotted down in a pocket notebook or on a note app throughout the day will accumulate into paragraphs over time. Life is busy, and dedicated writers will do what it takes to get their words down.

However, it is also essential to carve out substantial writing and rewriting time if you’re going to produce worthwhile material. It can be challenging to shift from regular life to your writing life. If you have an hour in the day of uninterrupted time, you’re supposed to be able to sit and write fluidly for the full sixty minutes. This isn’t realistic for most people, and you might find yourself staring at your screen for the entire hour, which only adds to the already frustrating life of a writer.

This is where a writing ritual can come in handy. Anything that tells you you’re about to start writing can serve as a writing ritual. The performance of the ritual serves to get your mind into author mode so that you can make more efficient use of your writing time.

Create something unique to you

Whether you brew a pot of tea before beginning or wear a certain hat while writing, the ritual should be something that is unique to you. Perhaps you place a talisman front and center or listen to a certain song before beginning to write. One writer I know says, “Let’s begin” at the beginning of each writing session and then gets right to it. Amazing. 

When you first start performing a writing ritual, it might not result in a flurry of words bursting forth from your mind onto the page, but after one or two good writing sessions in which you’ve performed a writing ritual, it will get easier to switch into author mode.

Your writing ritual could also serve to let your household know that you’re writing and curb an interruption or two. Considering how many times I’ve been interrupted while reading a book, I have to wonder if I’m being too optimistic in thinking you’ll actually be left alone to write. It’s worth a shot, right?

Should you create a closing ritual?

In the same way that the opening ritual signals you’re about to begin writing, a closing ritual signals to your mind that the writing session is over. Depending on your opening ritual, the closing ritual might be obvious to you: take off the writing hat or piece of jewelry; put away the talisman; clean the teapot or coffee mug; listen to a different song. 

A closing ritual is not crucial for everyone. You might think that a closing ritual would put an unwanted boundary on your creativity or limit you in some way. You might not find it necessary because it’s a lot easier to stop writing than it is to start. But what if you don’t live alone?

A closing ritual can signal to those around you that you’re done writing for the moment, which can be especially helpful if you’re usually in front of a computer screen performing multiple tasks throughout the day. You don’t have to run around telling everyone you’re done writing; you can simply take off the clown nose and move on to the next computer task.

Do you already perform a writing ritual? I’d love to hear about it.

A sampling of the Bard of Avon

Three steps to immortality:
  1. Skip the clichés.
  2. Use your own words.
  3. Live forever.

The secret life of a book manuscript

Author Thomas E. Ricks recently penned an interesting article in The Atlantic detailing the intricacies of the author–editor relationship as he wrote Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom.

Over our Caesar salads with sliced steak, I asked Scott why he had been so rough on me the previous winter. “Sometimes my job is to be an asshole,” he explained with equanimity. I wasn’t startled at this. At one point on an earlier book, when I told him how stressed I was feeling, he had replied, a bit airily, I thought, “Oh, every good book has at least one nervous breakdown in it.”

Whether you’re familiar with the writing process or not, this piece is a great read.

The next surprise, about three weeks into this process, was coming to realize, over the days of thinking about it, that Scott’s criticisms were spot-on. I saw that if I followed his suggestions and revamped the book, with a new structure that emphasized biography and told the stories of the two men chronologically, the book would be much better. I emailed a note to Scott. “You are right,” it said. This wasn’t so much an apology as the beginning of the next phase of work.

“Only a good writer would be able to say that,” he graciously responded.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

How long did it take to write the world’s most popular books?

Find time to write

Use those few minutes before a meeting starts, standing in line at the supermarket, and waiting in the doctor’s office. Instead of watching TV or checking social media, write. All those micro writing sessions add up to pages, which add up to chapters.

How not to start your story

There are many overused story openings that you should avoid at all costs. Several literary agents, acquisition editors, and publishers have written about this, but here is a short list of the most annoying and disliked ways to start a story.

Do not open your story with:

  • a dream;
  • an alarm clock buzzing;
  • a character jumping out of bed, running late;
  • the first day of anything new (e.g., school, job);
  • a wake up of any kind; or
  • the protagonist in bed for any reason.

Get your characters out of bed already.

Keep personality in your nonfiction

Nonfiction authors have the benefit of being real-life narrators, yet they often remove their own personality from their books.

When writing a nonfiction book, use your own voice. It should be a voice of authority about the subject and a voice that matches the tone of the book.

Protecting your writing time

J. K. Rowling’s advice about protecting writing days is fanciful. Days? How often does the average writer get a full day just for writing?

Work, school, and family obligations keep most writers I know from ever enjoying so much as half a day to themselves. However, Rowling is correct in using the word “ruthless”; writers need to be unflinching when it comes to their writing time.

Set boundaries

In order to manage whatever writing time you get, you must set boundaries.

It’s important to let anyone who might overstep those boundaries know what you expect during your allotted writing time. Your family and friends need to know to leave you alone. It helps if you can be specific. Saying “I’m going to write for an hour” instead of “I’m going to finish this scene” might actually result in an uninterrupted hour of writing time.

Let go of the guilt

When you have a stretch of time during which to write is when people will most want to spend time with you. This is an unexplained phenomenon similar to what happens when you sit down to read.

Write first and spend time with them later. It’s nothing to feel guilty about.

Don’t sabotage yourself

Sometimes getting other people into the habit of respecting your writing time is easier than getting into the habit yourself.

Don’t answer the phone thinking you’ll be able to get off the call in a few minutes. If you went to a coffee shop to write but did more people-watching than writing, don’t go there again. Turn off the TV.

Time management starts with saying “no”; drawing boundaries is more like saying “not right now.” It’s the crucial second step to having enough time to write.

How to start your story

The beginning of your story is meant to be an introduction to the rest of the story as a whole. Your job is to hook your readers from page one and give us a taste of the rest of the book.

I recently performed a developmental edit on a well-written thriller. In the opening scene, the protagonist is hiding in a closet and listening to the sounds beyond the closet doors. She is eventually discovered and makes a break for the exit. Throughout the book, the protagonist does a lot of traveling and encounters many dangerous people, but the book starts with her stuck in a closet.

How could the author make the first few paragraphs representative of the entire book?

My suggestion was for the author to show us the survivalist we come to know in the book. She is resourceful and lively, cautious but daring. By showing us a character who searches the closet for weapons, devises a plan or two, and moves as stealthily as possible, we’re able to see the gumption and intellect that will aid the character throughout the book.

Now when she makes a break for the exit, we are cheering her on and hoping she escapes. We already like her because we already know her.

The one time management tip you won’t follow but should

You’ve made a new year’s resolution to get that book done. So, let’s do it.

Every Monday for the next two months I’ll offer a time management tip that will change your behavior and the behavior of those around you, resulting in more time to write. Be warned: these are going to be succinct, useful, and harsh recommendations.

Time management tip #1: Say “no” a lot.

Once you start a new project, excuses will keep you from working on your new venture. By “excuses” I mean people you think you must please and events in which you think you must participate. Take this week to say “no” and realize how many time suckers are lurking in your life.

Why we say “yes”

We often say “yes” to events because we feel like we might miss out on something. Keep saying “yes” and you’ll miss out on writing a great book. We also say “yes” because we don’t want to disappoint anyone, no matter how many times they’ve disappointed us. Instead of letting other people down, you let yourself down. Over and over again. Stop it.

What happens when you say “no”

People might be miffed, but you’ll have written a killer scene, so what do you care? Those who care about you will admire your dedication. Those who get mad and stay mad were never planning to read your book anyway.

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