Writing Tip #12

Here’s a little ray of writing sunshine: It’s easy to assume absolutely, finitely, without question that writing everyday leads to a productive writing career.

To be clear, for some people it does.

But contrary to the common advice that writing every day is essential to being a writer, “no particular work schedule is associated with high productivity. Even working on a regular basis yields a mixed pattern of results” (as cited in Kellogg, 1994, p. 194).

Further research is needed to investigate the question of whether the advice to write every day is sound advice or if it is just a fallacious argument that we think is true because so many say it is.

Writing Tip #11

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Take your eyes off the price and put them on the prize. It’s important to write about things that matter to you. Moral intelligence creates authenticity in a writer. Set yourself something in writing that you are willing to reach for and, therefore, take risks for.

A Writerly Life: Brenda Ueland

“Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first,–at least for some part of every day of your life. It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it. You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, lighthearted and generous to everyone else.”
— Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write

Writing Practice: the dreaded 15 minute write

Almost every writing teacher argues that the basic unit of writing is writing practice, usually a timed exercise, with the admonition that through practice you actually do get better.

However, I have never enjoyed exercises like: Look at a plant. Write the life of the plant – what it’s done, what it’s seen, where it’s heading, its thoughts. I have never found advice like, try writing in your notebook upside down, or turn the book sideways, or write outside the margins to be helpful. I just do not believe that these small tasks will force me to think in creative ways, that forcing my brain to think outside the lines will make me a better writer.

I used to despise writing practice.

I felt like I had little enough precious time and I did not want to fritter it away on writing that was just practice. After rereading Brande’s Becoming a Writer, Campbell’s The Artist’s Way, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, I revised my aversion to writing practice. I mixed up their ideas and came up with a system that works for me, and it is one that I now encourage my writing students to use as well.

I advocate writing for either fifteen minutes or three pages, whichever comes first. However, from there my approach differs. I warm up with the first page of writing. I am primping the pump, so the rules are simple: Write without stopping. Do not be concerned with being good. It is warming up the writing muscle, just like stretches warm up our physical muscles.

But after the first page is done, I switch to deliberate writing, and this different type of writing. This is where I deviate from Brande, Goldberg and Campbell. In the next two pages I generate new writing. It’s deliberate. It’s specific. This advice does not originate with me—I got it from Priscilla Long who said, “The writing done in writing practice can be about anything . . .It can be an observation exercise. It can be work on an essay, story, article, or scene. It can be used to conceptualize new work” (p. 15,16).

Since I read that advice a year ago, I have done writing practice almost every day. I have written poetry. I have done character sketches. I have drafted new essays. I have done observation exercises. I’ve moaned and complained (I do it once in a while). Usually, I plan, conceptualize and draft new work.

I agree with Long when she says, “In a busy life, a week and then two weeks can go by in no time at all, with little or no writing done. The practice of writing for fifteen minutes per day simply deletes this problem” (p. 15). More importantly, writing for fifteen minutes a day helps commit to safekeeping a woman’s writing life.

The One Hard Thing Rule

In June, I developed my One Hard Thing Rule: I do one hard thing every day. For me, it is often something that needs to be done that I’ve been avoiding.

It can be a simple as mopping the kitchen floor or writing an email that I’ve been avoiding.

Weeks after I started this, I came across Angela Duckworth’s work and something that she calls, the “Hard Thing Rule”. It’s a ritual, where, every single day, you have to do one hard thing. For Duckworth, “A hard thing is something that requires daily deliberate practice”.

It’s satisfying to write down the One Hard Thing I’ve done each day. Sometimes, it’s even fun. But, most importantly, every day is an opportunity for me to perform one small act of bravery that has the potential to change the course of my (writing) life. Duckworth believes that by doing hard things is how we develop grit. I believe it makes me a better writer. It is a way of purposely, safely, joyfully challenging myself to do just One Hard Thing every day.

Writing is hard. Committing words to a page day in and day out is hard.

It requires some amount of confidence and commitment.

Writing might be a passion, but it requires perseverance. It requires grit.

Duckworth said, “Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it” (Chapter 4).

That just may be the advantage of the One Hard Thing Rule for women writers.

Sacrifice Something & Write

If you’ve been reading my blog, by now you’ve figured out that I think many of the secrets to writing are, frankly, annoying: don’t watch TV, get up at 3 a.m. and write, give up housework, or shop online. While none of these are inherently bad, they don’t really address the reasons why some women can’t be Super-Woman-Writer. Ie: be a wife and mother, work full time, attend graduate school, exercise 45 minutes a day, and still find time to write a novel a year.

After much reading and thinking, I think that the bottom line is that to make time to write, you must sacrifice something from your day. The sacrifice can be sleep, it can that you order take-out once a week instead of making supper , or you giving up Netflix, or parties, or hobbies. But even that sounds much simpler than it is. In the end, I think it might be easier to ask yourself if you are willing NOT to do one thing and then use that time to write. I think that not doing one thing changes the dance we have with our culture and society just a little bit. It lets us stand up for writing dreams. Try it for a week. See if it helps. I think you’ll be surprised.

#MondayGoals

Monday is a good day to start a new writing project. Research, bonafied peer-reviewed research, suggests that we may be more likely to actually follow through with our writing goals, if we start on a Monday rather than another day of the week. Monday signals a new beginning; and a new beginning provides a motivating and meaningful fresh start. Researchers found that this fresh start effect may have a serious impact on our real world behaviors. Essentially we are more empowered and motivated to pursue our goals when we start on a Monday.