Sunday, May 3, 2009

Seven Habits of (Not Necessarily Highly) Effective Writers

So, I am preparing notes for a seminar this week on the subject of overcoming common obstacles to creating and maintaining a writing routine. As I look over my topic headings, I'm tempted to take a short-hand, back-handed approach. For example:

Finding Time to Write: If you can find time to do the laundry, watch TV, gossip, browse YouTube, and talk about how much you really do want to write, you can find time to write.

Writer's Block: Ever heard of plumber's block? Accountant's block? Knitter's block? Playoff-watching block? Golfer's block? Get over it. How? You write.

Quieting Your Self Censor: Find a fellow writer working in the same genre, someone more experienced, who will read your work and when necessary, use the word bullshit a lot. Listen. Rewrite.

Getting Support: Might not happen with those you want it from the most. Write anyway. Look elsewhere for support. Don't wait to find it.

Improving Your Writing: Write. Read. Write. Read. Write. Get instruction. Get feedback. Rewrite. Read. Rewrite. Read. Rewrite. Repeat as necessary.

Getting From Idea to the Page: Write the idea(s) down. Any time, any place, any idea. On a piece of paper. Or a screen. Voila.

Establishing a Writing Routine: Write, beginning today. Repeat tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. See a pattern here?

I don't mean to sound flippant. And of course, I won't say these things to anyone who is interested enough in writing to come to a seminar about forging a creative writing habit. It's not as if I think the answers to these real writing dilemmas are quite so simple or obvious. They're not. Each and every writer, or would-be writer, or wannabe writer, or tentative writer, has to figure much of it out solo. Writing is the ultimate in on-the-"job" training. For the new writer, of course, there is a lot of value in listening to advice from those a bit, or a lot, further down the road. So I'm planning to offer lots of ideas, options, suggestions, tips and alternatives. I want to help as many people who want to write, to get writing.

Still, I find myself thinking that what I really want to say – and maybe I can find a diplomatic, encouraging way to do so – is, don't make more of this than it is. Don't romanticize writing. Or put it in the category of some mystical communion that only happens between muse and channel, some mysterious other-wordly thing to which only select individuals have access. Of course there is some of that. But only a very little of that. And only sometimes. And mostly, not when you desperately want it to materialize. Mostly the recipe is this: Read. Write. Learn the craft. Repeat. That recipe won't necessarily make you a great writer. But if your "problem" is that you can't get started, or feel blocked, or wonder if can write anything at all, the recipe holds up.

I'll have lots of handouts and will talk for an hour about creating the time and the mental and physical space to write. About finding writing organizations and conferences and online resources. About writing prompts and writing exercises and books for writers. About the value of writing groups and attending readings and getting feedback. About some routines, habits, and tricks that work for accomplished writers when they have trouble putting words on the page. I hope it all helps.

But then I wonder if I should tell the attendees: You can go home and think about all of it and read all of the handouts for an hour. Or you can write for an hour.

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