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Friday Find: Ten Tips for a Writing Life

If you’re a regular reader of Practicing Writing, you know that I frequently cite/link to author Midge Raymond and/or her blog. I’m delighted to be able to share with you today Midge’s guest post on “Ten Tips for a Writing Life.”

Midge is the author of Forgetting English, an extraordinary collection that I reviewed for Fiction Writers Review when it was first published. Happily, Forgetting English has just been re-released–in an expanded edition–and there’s still just a bit of time left to enter a Goodreads giveaway (it ends today!) for a chance to win a copy.

Enjoy the post, and the weekend, and I’ll see you all back here on Monday.

Take it away, Midge!

I love lists. I wouldn’t get a single thing done without them. (If I forget to take a list to the store, for example, I have to return home for it, or I just wander the aisles wondering what I need.)

Lists are helpful in terms of getting things done—but I also find that they’re helpful in remembering how to best get things done. That is, I often have to remind myself of how important certain habits are for living a writer’s life. So I’ve come up with a “top ten” list, which I hope will be useful to all writers who are, like most of us, juggling such things as day jobs and families while still trying to get all that writing done.1. Define your writing goals. I am very deadline oriented and pride myself on getting assignments and projects done on time or earlier. If I have a project due to a client, I meet that deadline, yet when it comes to my own writing, I’m a lot more lenient—and I shouldn’t be. So I’ve gotten into the habit of setting deadlines for myself (1,000 words by Friday; chapter two by the end of May)…and it works! Give it a try. Be strict.

2. Set yourself a writing schedule. Figure out when you’re at your clearest and best for writing, then choose your “shift.” If you’re a morning person, you might try a day shift; if you’re a night owl, a graveyard shift. I’ve recently started getting up early, which I never dreamed I could ever do and write anything coherent—but so far, so good.

3. Prioritize. Make your writing a priority in your own life, and this will ensure that others see it that way, too. Show up for your writing shift (see #2) as you would to any job. After all, if you didn’t show up for your day job for no reason and with no excuse, you’d have a lot of explaining to do. You should be equally accountable to yourself and to your writing. Show up happy, and remind yourself that you’ve chosen to be there—and remind yourself of why (see #10).

4.  Find a writing group or buddy. Having a good support system is essential for all of us in life, and especially for writers. Join a writing group that forces you to show up with written pages on deadline, for example—or find a writing buddy to meet at a café for an hour of freewriting. The nice thing about a writing buddy or group is that you’re accountable: You must show up (or you must have a good excuse for why you didn’t).

5. Create a sacred writing space. Even if it’s just a tiny desk in the smallest corner of your home, make it your own. Get rid of anything that might distract you, and keep near you the things that inspire you: books, artwork, a fountain pen.

6.  Get a cat. Or some other way of keeping yourself in the chair. I have a big orange cat who is fond of long naps—and not at all fond of being woken from these long naps. So when he settles in on my lap, I’m stuck for a while … and this can be a great thing. If you don’t have a feline handy, find some other way to keep yourself in the chair: set a timer and stay until it goes off, or promise yourself a post-writing latte. We all need a little inspiration (and yes, maybe a little self-bribery) to keep us in the chair.

7. Sequester yourself. Try to write without Internet access. If you’re thinking, “But I need to do research”—well, that’s one of my favorite excuses, too. I’ll hop online to look up one little thing, then decide to check email or log into Facebook, and then it’s all over. Save the research for later (see #9) and spend this precious writing time simply writing. If your poem isn’t flowing or your scene isn’t unfolding the way you’d like, try a writing prompt and see what happens (see #8). But whatever you do, don’t distract yourself with the Internet, or you’ll see your writing time disappear.

8. Keep writing prompts handy. I have a copy of Judy Reeves’s A Writer’s Book of Days on my writing desk at all times, and I take it with me when I write in cafés or libraries or in the park. That way, if I’m ever stuck, I can open the book, find a prompt, and keep writing. Sometimes it’ll be something I can use for the project at hand—other times, it’s something surprising and different and brand-new, which is even better.

9. Take a mini-vacation and/or some non-writing writing time. Sometimes you need to get away from your desk, even from your beloved writing space. I recommend taking at least one day a month (or more, if you can swing it) to write outside your usual space: Go to a park, a café, or even a nice, quiet pub where you can write over a glass of wine. See how this mini-vacation opens up your writing. And taking some non-writing time is important too—this can range from research (which can include interviews, web searches, library research, reading, watching films, etc.) to a meditative walk. Taking some time to do something that is not writing will often enhance your writing, whether it’s ten minutes of meditation or watching a documentary about a subject in your novel.

10. Remind yourself of why you write. Sometimes I get grouchy about not having enough time to write; other times, I’m grouchy because I have to sit down and slog through a beastly first draft. This is when I need to remind myself that I choose to do this, every day. And this is something we all must remember every so often: No one’s forcing us to write. We do it because we want to, for any number of reasons. Remind yourself of what your reasons are, what your rewards are. And this will make showing up on the page worthwhile—not a chore but a gift.


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5 Responses »

  1. During the much of my early writing life I read scored of books and the craft; and I took good notes, which eventually matured into a 400 page compendium of quotes on the craft.

    Perhaps you may find it helpful. If you are interested you can find it here, either to read or download as a pdf: http://anandawolf.com/essays/on-craft/the-elements-of-fiction.

    Metta,

    Ananda Wolf

  2. These are all right-on and as the author of 19 books who’s been publishing for 30 years I want to urge all people starting out to

    1–Make sure you have friends who are not in writing or publishing. You need to talk about the rest of life and get away from shop talk. Most of my writer friends live out of town and that’s very mentally healthy for me.

    2–Exercise. Swim. Do Pilates or Yoga. Work out. Run. It’s crucial that you spend time not immersed in your work and inside your head. It’s healing and important for balance. It also gets you off your butt, which we writers spend too much time on.

    3–Have a life that includes loves that aren’t writing. Cooking is one for me, so is travel, music of all kinds, movies, museums, theater-going. These may and probably will influence your writing, but you need to do things and enjoy things that don’t revolve around books.

    What these all come down to is balance.

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