By John Prince
It’s that time of the year when writers/authors begin to fret. “I want to write. It’s in me. I’ve got to get it out. What can I do? How do I do it?”
There is no such thing as writers block, inspiration, or a muse.
Writers block: Any excuse not to write. Inspiration: It’s not coming. Ever. Muse: Forget Lord Byron. He was either drunk or stoned when not swimming The Bosphorus.
If you can speak relatively coherent English (or any other language) you can write. Writing is not just about grammar, spelling and punctuation. That’s why they invented editors. Think about it: Your writing can help them stay in business and feed their families. You’re an essential service.
Writing is about putting down your thoughts and imagination so that it influences your readers to do or feel something.
You must write every (week)day.
You must write every day even if it’s an essay about what you had for lunch yesterday. The late Canadian writer, Stuart McLean, wrote a few hundred words every day, for years, about something, often trivial, which he later published as a book of essays.
Every weekday write at least 750 words, preferably at the same time every day, probably in the morning (most brains work best when they’re fresh) about anything. Do it for 90 minutes a day. Anything. You’re trying to create a habit.
Before bedtime every evening, write down your writing subject for the next day on a sticky note and put it on your monitor. That will set your mind to thinking about it while you sleep. Get up in the morning with the subject on your mind, write about it. If another subject comes up, that’s great; now you have an extra subject for another day.
Remember Jack Nicholson in The Shining? “All work and no fun makes Jack a dull boy.” At least he was writing something. Of course, he was also a potential axe murderer, a fate you should avoid if possible.
Save everything. In case you become famous.
File your “daily essay” on your computer (In the DailyEssay2021 folder) by date, subject, title or some method where you can probably find it again. It may come in handy later. Or not.
Try different styles and formats. Verse. Narrative. Humor. Scientific. Familiar. Anger. Use direct quotes, descriptive narrative, paint word pictures, make the reader emotional—weep, swear, yell, laugh, crumple in agony. It doesn’t have to be great. It just has to be.
Perfection is not a goal.
Seven hundred-fifty pretty good words today is worth 10 million perfect words next week. Get the thoughts and ideas down. Kill electrons. Wear out the keyboard. Now. You can go back and edit/rewrite/rewrite for the next century. You only get one first chance.
Write about stuff: What you had for dinner, your favorite date in high school, the person you hated most in your last job, a sunset, a storm, dogs, capital cities. Start at the beginning (that means literally anywhere) and go on until you’re finished. You may be writing drivel, but believe me, Di Vinci also painted some really awful canvases. You’re just trying to get into the habit of writing.
Take the weekends off. Everybody needs a break. If you get a brilliant idea, write them down. That’s why they invented sticky notes.
Sit on a tree branch and write. It will recharge your imagination.
Have a place to write? I believe that you cannot learn if you are comfortable. Often, when I teach a class I have the students change seats—so they feel less comfortable. Writing is much the same, using the same creative processes as learning. You’ve got a laptop; climb up on a big rock, enjoy the sunshine, and see how that changes your perspective and your writing.
For a change write longhand in a notebook using your favorite fountain pen and colored ink. Write in a moving car (you probably shouldn’t be the driver). On a boat. On the beach. Anywhere that you wouldn’t normally be when writing. Let your imagination soar.
Show your work to your friends. Most of them will tell you how great it is. Some of them will even read it all the way through. If you want an honest opinion, ask a stranger. If they tell you it’s terrible, keep writing. What do they know, anyway?
Join a critique group. They really don’t know either, but at least they will probably be honest.
Write what you know. (An old maxim!)
Figure out what you’re good at—what you know about— and write about it. Lumberjacks are usually not good at writing drawing room romances. Doctors are often good at writing medical mysteries.
Write for a reason. Shakespeare wrote to keep ale in the goblet and a roof over The Globe. Choose your reason and make that your target. Write to keep your sanity, to fill in time, to practice typing.
Forget the “rules.” There are no rules for writing. None. I already checked.
The “rules” will tell you all kinds of things to do and not do if you want to be a writer. Forget them. They were made up by mathematicians and politicians—people who have to hire speechwriters just to say, “Happy Birthday.”
Do you think Ernest Hemmingway followed rules? I think not.
Bottom line: Write. Go for it. Have fun. Write drivel. Doesn’t matter. You have to get warmed up. Every (week)day. 750 words. Bang them out. You might be surprised at what happens next.
3 thoughts on “The Recipe for Writing 2021”
Brilliant. Didn’t do a word count, but mission for today is accomplished.
I get my best ideas (well, I think) when I’m not writing. Always sure I’ll remember that flash of genius, that perfect phrase (well, I think) when I sit at the computer. Rarely happens. Wear clothing with pockets big enough for pen and note pad.
Realize the advantage of ‘productive avoidance.’ It may take a bit longer to write that best seller, but you will have the cleanest windows and most organized closets on the planet! Mindless but needed tasks can sometimes lead to that perfect phase.
I love the sentence, Join a critique group, They really don’t know either…
I enjoy your newsletters.
Helpful reminders. Thanks