Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How to ‘just write’

by Dorothea Brooke

This is not about how to write well. If you’ve come here for expert advice on how to refine your art and create beautiful, engaging prose that scintillates and inspires, I’m sorry. You’re clearly in the wrong place — I just used the word scintillates, for Heaven’s sake, and I’m about to start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction. But if you want to know how to knuckle down and write any damn thing, this post is for you.

There is plenty of advice out there on how to write well. Before there is even the ghost of possibility of writing well, one first needs to know how to just write. Not just at the basic level of acquiring the literacy skill required to know how to put together a grammatically correct sentence (although, obviously, there’s that), but how to actually do that on a practical level, in sustained stretches, regularly. Daily, even.

There isn’t so much advice out there on how to make writing part of your life, other than just do it. So here are my suggestions on how to just write.

Write any old drivel. For a lot of would-be writers, writing is more than just a hobby; it’s a calling, a latent but significant aspect of their deepest authentic self, which when finally given the time and opportunity to develop into its potential will be the complete expression of their identity and place in this world. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a talent that you haven’t really practised since that 3 chapter novella about dinosaurs eating chocolate you laboured over in third grade. The link between perfectionism and procrastination might be overstated but I know that waiting to write when I’m ready to really be a writer held me back from actually writing.

Start by writing some trashy fan-fiction, terribly derivative fantasy stories, or travel blog monologues about your nothing-new spiritual awakening in India. Whatever gets you actually writing. I started by writing terrible erotica that was never meant to be a full expression of my real writing talent. there was no pressure for it to be good. I also started journaling. Building a daily journaling habit has been hard, but the immediate value for my mental well being was a motivating force. Journaling is still a valued part of my personal development and self care routines, and my journal is fertile ground in which to allow vague notions to grow into actual, usable ideas.

Start with a word-count goal first, then progress to project goals. By project goals, I mean aiming to complete a whole text — something like, ‘write How to Just Write for Medium’. The problem with project goals is that they are as long as a piece of string. If it’s the kind of thing you’ve never done before, it could be short and achievable, but also, it could potentially be very long, approaching infinite, with revisions and reworking and deleting then adding, deleting then adding.

So, there is a high chance of failure and discouragement as you realise that this writing thing isn’t as easy as it should be, you’re not as full of untapped talent that just needed an opportunity to gush forth as you thought you were. Clearly, you don’t know what you’re doing, and now that feeling of creative genius ready to flow from your speedily tapping fingers feels like some swelling mass inside of you that you don’t have the strength to be free of. Or so I’ve heard.

So, project goals are not the best way to start small and build up gradually. A word count keeps it confined and measurable. I started with the meagre goal of 400 words a day. A pittance, something possible to hack out on a google doc on my phone during my lunch break at work. Yet even that was hard at first. I managed 4 days in a row, then got a miserable 272 words on a day where I just didn’t have time.

There’s the lie. ‘I don’t have time.’ Actually, I just didn’t make time. Making time for writing is the hardest stumbling block for a lot of people. You have time to read this blog, so you have time to write. Stop reading now, go pump out 400 words. Write any old drivel. Come back when you’re done, I’ll still be here.

Track your progress.

You can track your increase in word count, and this will motivate you to keep pushing that number up. Another thing you can track is your words per minute. Measure yourself and celebrate your improvements. Motivation snow balls as you see your successes.

Make specific appointments with your writing. Schedule it in. Start in small blocks of time at first.

My schedule varies every day and changes completely every 8 weeks, so I don’t write at a routine time. I schedule it in when I schedule in my weekly activities (if you want to know more about how I tabulate the heck out of my life, I wrote about it here).

Get the conditions as right as possible, but work with what you’ve got. Absolute silence, nil distractions, a large screen computer with keyboard letters that make a delicate click like a little pebble in a jar with every letter added, a firm but comfortable chair that swivels and adjusts, ample time due to lack of other employment, bright but warm lighting, a cool but delicate breeze, a window onto natural scenery and the absence of concerns about money, freedom, health, parenting, or housekeeping: these are the conditions under which I would write my perfect novel.

In the meantime, I write short stories and flawed blog posts on a second hand laptop in a quiet-ish corner of the library on my lunch break. I sometimes add a little here and there on my phone screen using Google docs (I’m doing this right now, in fact, at the front of a classroom because I’m early to my morning lesson and my students don’t share my enthusiasm to get started).

Some things that I’ve done to make conditions not perfect but as conducive to writing as possible are:

Writing in the library or other focused-feeling space.

Using a laptop which I use for little else than writing — — I don’t dick around on the internet on this laptop so it would feel weird to just open social media in another tab and just do a ‘quick check’.

Making a big, awkwardly overfull cup of tea to keep me planted on my seat for at least the first 15 minutes if I’m writing at home.

Removing myself from the company of other people. I don’t write well when I’m conscious if people looking over my shoulder, but I can focus if I put a few metres between us.

Get an audience for your writing. The three main ways that building a readership for your writing helps (even if you’re not yet brilliant) are encouragement, accountability and feedback.

Whether that audience is your mum, the blog readers of Medium, a social media following, other writers in collectives like this one or real live writer’s groups, etc., the important thing is that you have someone else look at your work. Writing is an act of communication. It is incomplete without being shared.

Overwhelmingly, feedback on my writing efforts has been supportive, positive, constructive and genuinely helpful. Writing on my blog and website has forced me into the regular habit of writing because I know I have to keep writing regularly to build an audience.

And I know I can’t just write half baked rubbish, because someone out there in the real world is going to read it. Thanks.

Writing is like any other skill— it is achieved by regular, consistent and mindful practice. Did you get out those 400 words?

from HERE

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