Tag Archive | "writing habits"

Five Ways to Keep on Keeping On

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Five Ways to Keep on Keeping On


swimmingYou are deep into drafting your novel. You can’t see land in either direction. You can’t quite assess how far you’ve come or how much farther you must go until you can climb out, shake the excess words off, and see the distance you’ve travelled. You can only keep swimming. Here are some tips to keep you going:

1)   Don’t tread water. Keep moving, ideally in the same direction. This means that you are not hitting the same point over and over again. Hit it and go on. What’s next?

2)   Go back and re-read what you wrote over the past couple of days. This takes a certain kind of discipline, because you are likely to hear the angry, frustrated voice of the inner critic telling you just what he or she thinks of what you’ve written. So you must find a way to read just for what’s there, for what’s working, if you must—but better not to even ask yourself if it’s working. Just see what is there and from that, arrive at what comes next.

3)   Put your hands on the keyboard. Close your eyes. Know, powerfully, that what is coming next will come to you. Trust the inkling. Grab it. Go.

4)   Make a left turn, if you can’t keep going forward. If you start to get stuck, just make something happen. Do it as an experiment. You are going to write many books, and many drafts of this book. There is no way to avoid  writing it wrong some of the time, unless you skip out on writing it right, too. So loosen up, get it wrong, and see what you learn.

5)   Remember that water bouys you up if you keep breathing. So, too, will all the swirling matter of your book support your further progress. Lean into it. Breathe, relax, and float. To reverse the poem, you are “not drowning, but swimming “ . . .


What keeps you writing?


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Brain Dump: a one-week challenge

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Brain Dump: a one-week challenge


I just had an exciting call with a prospective client, and I gave her an assignment I thought I’d pass on to you. Many people have worked with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, writing morning pages and going on artist’s dates with themselves.


Morning pages taught me some valuable lessons. Most importantly, perhaps, was the lesson that people will wait for you or work around you if you tell them you must write first. Also that if you write three pages each day, you will fill up many, many notebooks.


But morning pages are a true brain dump. I would write to do lists and stress out and meander. Nothing wrong with that, except if you want to write something else.


Here’s a helpful exercise: Write your morning pages on your current writing project. In other words, brain dump scenes, images, ideas, memories, thoughts and sensate details that tie in, or might tie in, to the novel or other project that is engaging you right now.


Let that wonderful morning page time double as your writing work.


Call it a Focused Brain Dump.


This is different from the permissive, wide-open morning pages and in no way meant as a critique of that tool. This is another tool, a way to build on your writing habits, to gain forward momentum. To get your novel started . . . or finished . . . now.


Try it everyday for a week and let me know what you think and what you did.

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A Study of Dreams


When I was in college, I participated in a study of dreams. Each night for perhaps a month, I would open up my  journal, write down “Dreams” and the next day’s date, and then go to sleep. In the morning, as soon as I woke up, I would record everything I could remember about my dreams from the night before. At first, this only took a few minutes. I noted fragments and then got up. But as I kept at it, I remembered more and more of my dreams, and the notebook began to fill with complex scenes, juxtaposed images, long, involved dreamscapes.

Writing a novel at a pace evolves much the same way. At first, if you have not been writing fiction every day, the stories inside you stay hidden. But if you keep the faith, if you boldly title the top of a blank page with your intention to fill it, the stories become willing to appear before your conscious mind. You begin to see–through the act of recording–the depth and the breadth of them, their relationships to each other, the wild, rich world of images that dances in your own mind.

The conscious mind does not always react well to this invasion. It has been taught–painstakingly and slowly–to fear and doubt the products of its sunken treasureship. Whatever you are doing, the conscious mind will not be pleased. At first. You are sneaking around the Berlin walls and barbed wire that want to KEEP OUT the connective, creative worlds inside you. And how are you doing this? By showing up every day. By facing the blank page and letting it be an invitation to your imagination. By being willing to be “wrong” or “bad;” indeed, by stepping outside of those definitions altogether.

Leo woke up early from his nap yesterday. I was there in bed with him, but he sat up and began to cry, and then pointed to the door. “Nursy?” I asked him. He shook his head, stuttering, “No, no, no, no” through his sobs. He didn’t want me to hug him or comfort him. He pointed to the door again, and so we left the room and went downstairs. In the living room he pointed to the empty bookshelf, and I swear I thought that maybe he was seeing my father’s ghost. We do live in his old house, in our raucous, messy way that my father would both have loved and hated. But mostly, I had just never seen Leo so inconsolably upset. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him turn down nursy, unless maybe there was a dog or a slide nearby.

Now I think that perhaps he had had his first bad dream. Well, actually both boys do their share of crying in their sleep, and one of the things we learned from parenting books is not to rush in and wake a sleeping baby just because he is crying. No one knows why we dream. It may be a way to process our day. To integrate our feelings . . . But even people who tell you that they do not dream, do. We all dream. Not all of us pay attention.

The act of paying attention is the radical part of being a writer. It’s also what’s exhausting (and rewarding) about being a parent.

The dream study returned my dreams with their analysis. They had counted up the number of times various objects had turned up in my dreams. They told me that I didn’t wear Burkenstocks. I remember that I had confused the words “president” and “pregnant”–which contained a world of stories they did not even try to guess or fathom. I was disappointed. At nineteen, I wanted someone to study my dreams and learn my hidden self, see my potential, marvel at the vivid worlds that turned up when I was willing to take notes on my nights. I was a dancing princess, and they were looking at my worn out shoes and seeing only poverty.

I am afraid this line of thinking could lead me into another diatribe against critics–and my gentlereader critic pled so well for his profession, its own “suspect class.” (This is the term for a protected minority, as it turns out.)

So I will jump to another square and ask, How do you create the possibility for creativity in your life? How do you made the blank space that will fill from beneath?

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Related Sites

  • 1st Books: Stories of How Writers Get Started See my blog about the wonderful Meg Clayton. The blog is guest authors’ tales of their tales
  • A Bit of This, A Bit of That Prolific, intelligent and quirky blogger and lover of all things bicycle . . .
  • Jamie Ford: Bittersweet Blog The author of The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (2009) shares the journey; lots of fun.
  • Koreanish A wonderful, helpful blog by the great writer Alexander Chee
  • ReadingWritingLiving Susan’s Ito’s wonderful blog on “trying to do it all: reading writing momming daughtering spousing working living” plus great insights into adoption and other stuff
  • SethFleisher.com Seth is a very good writer–and he’s got content: international politics, being a dad, and, of course, writing . . .
  • Sports Race Politics America Gretchen Atwood is working on an exciting book about the integration of pro-football. Here’s one to watch.
  • Towers of Gold Frances Dinkelspiel’s engaging web site about California history, economics and other important ideas.