Lately, I’ve had to trick myself into writing. Here are 6 (Okay, I snuck in an extra this week) tricks/methods (suggested by great writers, mentors, professors, & colleagues) that I’ve been using to get started:
1. The longhand trick. Write in a notebook, with a good old pen. Pablo Neruda said, “The typewriter separated me from a deeper intimacy with poetry, and my hand brought me closer to that intimacy again.”
2. Allow yourself to write terribly. Just get it down on the page. Tell yourself I’m just having fun, I’m just free-writing. It doesn’t matter if what I write is any good. I’m just stretching my writing muscles, practicing. “You must be unintimidated by your own thoughts,” said Nikki Giovanni, “because if you write with someone looking over your shoulder, you’ll never write.”
3. Goals. Set them and stick to them, my professor says. A page a day equals a novel a year. Goals force us to rise up; they make us fight for something. And when we accomplish them, our self esteem is boosted and our artistic faith is renewed. This week my goal was 1,000 words a day. Did I accomplish that goal? Yes. Was every word worth keeping? No way. I may have ended up scrapping half the week’s work, but I believe I wrote more than I would have if I hadn’t set the goal.
4. Read good stuff. I once overheard a writer say, I’m not really a big reader. This blew my mind! Reading and writing go hand in hand. Whenever I read good fiction it completely inspires me. I used to feel intimated and think: Well, I’m never going to be that good, why even bother? I’ve learned this feeling is unproductive. My friend’s brother is a songwriter and when she was struggling with her own writing, he said to her: I look at it as even the worst songwriter is still a songwriter. We can’t be writers if we don’t write. And we don’t always need to be the best to do what we love.
5. Imitate the good stuff. I often use this method to warm up. Again, back to the notebook where I write a short piece imitating the style of an author I admire. Others recommend literally copying a paragraph you love, word for word, onto the page. This gets the hand moving and it wakes the mind up. It’s about paying attention: you closely witness another writer’s choices as you transcribe the passage. And you learn something you may choose to apply to your own writing.
6. Writing in a café/ bar. Think of Hemingway at Le Deux Maggots or at the Ritz Carlton in Paris. There’s life and noise happening in cafes that feeds our writing. Writing somewhere new also shakes things up and makes things fun. And you feel mysterious and cool when you do this. And people come up to you and say, “What are you working on there?” My novel, you can say. Or, a collection. Then they get really impressed and it makes you feel like you’re doing something important (which you are). It also puts the pressure on: I better not be all talk, I better get down to business and write this thing.
Today I will be using two tricks. I will allow myself to write terribly and I will read good stuff. Currently reading two beautiful story collections: Lydia Peelle’s Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing. And Barb Johnson’s More of This World and Maybe Another.
“It is important to try and write when you are in the wrong mood or the weather is wrong. Even if you don’t succeed you’ll be developing a muscle that may do it later on.”