Four Keys to a Writer's Life
As you prep for our journey, I want you to start exercising! We're going to get in shape! Work off the dust of our minds and tighten the flab of our daily schedules so we can utilize the writing time we have in our days.
Writing is much like every other discipline. It takes commitment. After all, as much as we'd like it to happen, those books don't just download from our brains automatically! It takes nurturing. Did you know that your brain has a well of words for each day, and you need to replenish those words after you use them? It takes time (something we're going to figure out how to get!), and it takes a game plan.
Let's start with Commitment. The fact is, writing will take you away from your family, your health club, your church, your social groups, your online gaming, your Sudoku, your television…you get the drift. There are costs. The keys to keeping those costs in line are:
Writing should ALWAYS come after spending time with God (that's also the nurturing part!) and rarely above family and church, but sometimes it does come before workouts and social life.
My friend Judy Baer (writing coach, extraordinaire) shared this illustration with me once: “Stand on one foot and balance. You can’t stand perfectly still, but rather, you have lean to different sides to keep your balance.”
Writing and life should be like this -- different sides require attention in different waves. If you are to invest in writing, then know that you might have to give up other things. Don’t worry—it’s not forever!. But for a while. If you were training for the Olympics, you'd have a training schedule, and it would ramp up when you had specific events to meet. Take a look at your life and see if you can carve out one hour per day, or three per week to invest in writing. Then, put that on your calendar in RED. It's an appointment. Be there.
Nurturing: Your brain needs a steady supply of new words, spiritual nourishment, research facts, and good writing to keep it fresh and ready to put prose on the page.
Spiritual Nourishment: Writing is largely a spiritual event. You are connecting on a thematic level with your reader, and that happens in the spiritual realm. Sure, we access many of these metaphors through emotion, but looking past feelings to their deeper meaning and sources helps broaden your understanding of your book, your character’s journey, and most importantly WHY you are spending time writing this book. Make a habit of spending time soaking in God's Word, or a devotional book like Streams in the Desert, or whatever form of spiritual food you need for your diet. I like to read theology books, but sometimes a great devotional book puts my spirit into the right frame to see beyond myself, to tap into the bigger picture and inspires me to write.
Research: make it your goal to keep up with the world. Technology. Medicine. Trends. Don't be afraid to use the Discovery channel for interesting plot ideas! Know what’s happening in culture and politics. Read biographies, current, and past – you’ll be inspired with new story ideas. Subscribe to Reader’s Digest and National Geographic. (At least TiVo the channel!) To communicate to our world, you need to understand it.
Read Up: Fill your mind with great writing. Start your writing time reading the Psalms, or perhaps a book of poetry. Read the classics, yes, but also make it your goal to read in your genre! Most importantly, find authors that are better than you and soak in their words, analyzing why they are fabulous. Feeding your mind and your soul will give you the materials you can draw from as you create.
Time: This is one of the hardest areas for new writers. Most of us don’t have hours in the day to wait for the muse to find us. We have thirty minutes after supper, or perhaps three hours on a Saturday morning.
Here's a few strategies for maximizing that time:
1. Plan ahead for your writing time and get your family to help you protect it. I have a sign on my door that reads, “Cry Me a River.” In short…they’d better have a good reason to come through that door when it’s closed (only if there’s blood or fire is the general rule). When my children were young, I always had an open door policy. However, I asked them to respect my time, just like I respected theirs. That meant that I spent time with them first – reading, helping with homework, fixing dinner – whatever they needed. I also involved them in the writing process. If they allowed me to finish a chapter, we’d celebrate with something fun (yes, there was a lot of ice cream in those early days). And I promised that when my first book got published, I’d take them to Disney World. I kept that promise. Enlisting your family’s help will free you from guilt
2. Keep a notebook of ideas that will invariably come to you as you wash dishes, walk the dog, clean the bathroom, drive to work, sit in a boring meeting, or even in the middle of the night. Sometimes you can't dash to your computer to put in that perfect sentence--so put it in your notebook. You'll have a collection of words and sentences to jumpstart your creativity when you sit down to write.
3. Don't clean up your writing space mid-project (okay, I know, that sounds like a messy person's excuse but...) if you simply walk away from your computer after you finish a scene, you'll be able to slip right back into it when you come back. I always suggest having a special room to write in so you can close the door, even if it's a section of your bedroom--something I did for years. I had a little garage-sale chair with a pile of books on the opposite side of the bed--my little alcove. But, if you can't find a separate space, invest in a little basket to throw all your writing gear in (research books, etc), and then set it somewhere where it won't be “reorganized” (as my husband calls it!). Keeping your research handy helps you maximize your time when you sit down and dive back into your story.
Finally, you need a Game Plan, and I'm not talking plotting versus seat-of-the-pants writing here--I'm talking about a little journal that you keep AFTER your writing session. Write down any thoughts you have for the next chapter, as well as your goal for the next writing session. Maybe you want to go back and revise the previous chapter or fix certain words. Maybe you need more research. Maybe you just want to plow ahead, but have notes for revisions.
Keeping a journal of your writing time helps you focus on each writing session without having to ask, "Now, where was I?" This is especially true if a week or more has gone by in between writing sessions.
Now, for all of you who have little children and think, "Hey, I don't even have time to wash my hair—I can't possibly find time to write,” my words to you are, well, let's see, greasy hair versus seeing your dreams come true. You can wash your hair when your kids go to school. No, I'm not that bad! I like clean hair, but I well remember the days when I typed with my children on my lap, or stayed up late with my laptop while my husband snoozed beside me.
He sure woke up when I got that first contract.
Thanks, Susie!! Happy reading and writing everyone!