I’ve been writing an essay a week since November 1998. Well, almost every week. I missed one last week, and almost missed it this week.
This piece lists some of the tactics I’ve used over the years to keep me writing. Sometimes my schedule insists on slips. That’s partly why I wanted to take this topic. It’s both a reminder and a refresher. With a dollop of irony.
Becoming a good writer requires practice. What better way to practice than to write once a week? That’s what I asked myself back in 1998.
It hasn’t been easy. Arguably, it hasn’t improved my craft significantly either. Further improvements may only come with professional guidance. But first, I need to practice, practice, practice.
Here is what I’ve done to encourage a river of weekly writing:
- Don’t stress over missing a day
- I need to remind myself of this one often. Ultimately, I write because I enjoy it. Professionals warn that once it becomes a career, the fun factor fades. Since I’m not a professional, I must maintain some of that magic, that delight that keeps me writing. Give yourself permission to miss an occasional day of writing. Then return right back to the schedule. However, if you miss too many, then maybe you need a new hobby. I hear watching TV is real easy to do.
- Carry something that allows you to record ideas anytime, anywhere
- Inspiration is a fickle fairy. Rarely does she appear when I’m sitting at my desk. If this happens to you too, consider carrying around a notepad, voice recorder, or mobile phone with which you can record said inspiration. This way, everything from potential topics to picturesque prose can be noted for later.
- Establish a habit of writing regularly
- Habits are powerful creatures. They can be used for good and evil. Let’s use them for good. Find a regular pocket of time in which you can hide from the world. Then ignore everything else for a while and just write. Doing this consistently and frequently enough will turn it into a habit.
- Find the right place to write
- Having a reliable pocket of time isn’t always good enough. Sometimes you need a reliable pocket of space as well. A cubbyhole that dependably inspires and energizes. This could be a coffee shop, a room with bay windows, or a dark cave. Whatever the case, it needs to be a place that stirs your brain and moves your fingers to write.
- Write what you know
- You’ve heard this before. Write about topics familiar to you. It’s usually easier this way. If you are a truck driver, it might be difficult to craft a credible story about astronauts. A mystery about stolen cargo or a horror story about ghosts on a highway; those might be simpler.
- Stretch your creative muscle
- Ignore my previous tip. What do I know? Write about topics unfamiliar to you. It might be more difficult, but it’s not impossible. Use your library or the web to research the life and loves of being an astronaut. A romance between an astronaut and her trainer or a thriller about the last humans alive in a space station; they might be challenging but fun.
- Read a lot
- If you want to be a good chef, you need to learn how to cook and how good cooking tastes. Consume that which you want to create. So read. Read voraciously. Then take a second to stare at the words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters of your favorite books and articles. Examine the poetry behind the prose. You’ve just tasted something wonderful. Now go and recreate it in your own way.
- Read books on the craft of writing
- Good and bad books on writing abound. My personal recommendations include these timeless tomes: On Writing Well by William Zinsser, The Elements of Style by William Strunk & E.B. White, and Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. I’d also like to throw in two more favorites: Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver and On Writing by Stephen King. All of these books have educated, inspired, and delighted me tremendously. Hopefully they can impart the same magic unto you.
- Join a writing workshop
- If you are lucky enough to find a friendly local writing workshop, sign up. The power of peer pressure is potent. With a good coach and enthusiastic participants, you can gain a lot of valuable feedback. Be sure to keep an open mind. Sometimes the criticism can be harsh. That only means they care. The only way to strengthen a sword is to heat and hammer it relentlessly.
- Find a writing buddy
- If you can’t find a good writing workshop, consider finding a writing buddy. Stranger or friend, the ideal writing buddy will be a person similarly enthusiastic about writing. The level of interaction is yours to decide. Sitting quietly, having lively conversation, critiquing actively, abstaining from feedback, this is all up to your personal style and chemistry with your companion.
- Publish your writing on a blog
- When an active readership exists, there is an incentive to continue writing. The desire to avoid disappointing others can be quite motivational. That’s certainly my sentiment. Blogging platforms such as Tumblr, Posterous, Live Journal, and Xanga all give readers an easy way to discover your writing. Consider using one of these tools to share your craft with the world.
- Write first
- There’s nothing more embarrassing and stifling to a writer than premature editing. Many a writer has stumbled on this snag. Do you write a sentence, stop, reread, rewrite, and repeat? Well, cut it out. There will be time to edit your prose later. For now, you just need to get those words out.
- Edit later
- Now that you’ve got pages upon pages of prose, it’s time to get ruthless. Zinsser’s book has fantastic tips on effective editing, so I won’t repeat it all here. In short, cut every word until you can’t cut anymore.
- Have fun
- Oh yea, and have fun! That’s why you’re writing in the first place, right? So smile and enjoy the craft!