Friday, February 20, 2015

How To Write Well And Write Often (Part 1)

Writing has always been my go-to activity. For instance, when my husband first laid eyes on me, I was sitting in a corner, feverishly scribbling notes into a journal. We were both fifteen-years-old, surrounded by socializing teenagers, and yet there I sat, writing like my life depended on it.

While this image slightly embarrasses me, for the record, not much has changed. I write every single day. I just do. It would feel weird not to. Also, it's my profession, so there's that.

And in writing as often as I do, I've discovered some techniques along the way that have really helped my process. These are ideas that I've either come across from other writers or just by pure accident in my own experimentation. Hopefully you will find value in them, and if you don't, uh, I guess just keep that noise to yourself.

Write morning pages.

This concept comes from The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and it's been somewhat of a game changer for me this year. Morning pages are comprised of three HANDWRITTEN pages of stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning. And by stream-of-consciousness, I mean that these pages should look like the ramblings of a crazy person. By spewing thoughts all over three pages, it's far simpler to battle those voices in your head that say, "Are you kidding me? Do you really think you're going to write something worthwhile today? Pssh." Writing my morning pages gets my juices flowing, and believe it or not, some of my favorite ideas have come from this process. Whatever comes to mind, write it down, and make a daily habit of it.

Recognize your creativity spikes.

If you put a pen in my hand and tell me to write something at six o'clock in the morning, I might be able to scrawl my own name, but that's about it. By 9 AM, I've got some proper nouns flowing, and by 3 PM, I've got some verbs, but my brain really kicks into gear between 4:30 PM and 1 AM. I'll be the first to admit that this isn't the most practical time to be creative, and believe me, I've tried to switch up my schedule, but it seems this is just how my brain works. Still, because I can recognize this daily spike in my creativity levels, I try to get as much out of this time as I can. I get tedious things like emails and phone calls out of the way in the morning so that come 4:30, I'm ready to bust it, writing style. Think about when you feel most inspired in your day (maybe you're one of those early morning freaks). Are you really using that time to your advantage?

Write shitty first drafts.

I've already written about this idea in a previous post, and I probably will do so about a hundred times after this because it's seriously that important. "Shitty first drafts" comes from the book Bird By Bird by Anne Lammott, which as far as I'm concerned is the best book on writing that exists. Basically, once you've written your morning pages and you've picked a stellar time in your day to work, Lammott argues that you should simply start your project and let it be awful. Use words that aren't glamorous, let your characters say stupid things, make a whole mess of everything. Then go back and pick out the one or two things that you actually like. I think bloggers especially have lost the art of drafting, and it's so very important. Write like crazy, then refine.

Write about your lunch.

Also from Bird By Bird. Folks, when you are struggling for material, write about lunch. Seriously. In particular, write about the lunch that was served in your school cafeteria as a kid. Trust me. Lunch is a goldmine for ideas, and it never gets old no matter how many times you write about it. Never.

Read your writing out loud.

Every post you've read on this blog, I've read out loud to myself. If that sounds excessive, I don't really care. Even if I'm sitting in a coffee shop writing, I'll quietly mutter my words under my breath like a madwoman because that's how important I think this practice is. Reading your writing aloud is the best way to make sure everything sounds like an actual human wrote it. It forces you to think about the way you would communicate your message to a friend, and I'm a firm believer in making friends of your readers. Rule of thumb: If you feel like a robot while reading your stuff out loud, it's time to add some of your own flavor.

Remember that humor is in the details.

Remember how me and Anne Lammott told you to write about lunch? Really think about your childhood cafeteria. Who served your food? What shape was your pizza? Where did you sit? Was there anything that made your lunchroom special? These details are everything. They take a sentence from, "I asked for some milk," to "I sheepishly asked Roberta, the head lunch lady and the star of all of my nightmares, for some milk." Details are glitter. They make your writing sparkle and create a more authentic picture for your readers.

(By the by, in my school cafeteria our milk came in bags. Plastic, beanbag shaped bags that we would have to spear with a pointed straw. They nearly always exploded, and thinking about them still fills me with an inexplicable rage.)

Write for yourself.

If you are a blogger, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about who your audience is and what they might like to read. That's fine, but it's also sort of limiting. My belief is this: if you build it, they will come. Your readers want you, the real you, not some reduced-fat version of you. It can be tempting while writing to think, "Oh GOD, what if my mom reads this?" or "Yikes, this is making me sound like a terrible person." If a thought like that creeps into your mind, shut it down. You can edit out all of your weirdness later, but while you're writing, write only what is true. 

Frickin' LIVE.

You can't write if you don't experience the world around you. Plain and simple. Go live, girl.

Frickin' READ.

You can't write if you don't read. Plain and simple. Go read, girl.

Lookout for the second part of this series next week, but in the meantime...

What is your best piece of writing advice?


  1. All of this is TRUE, TRUE, TRUE!! I also think stepping wildly outside your comfort zone and talking to new people is crucial for coming up with things to write about. Eager for part 2. Sounds like we have a similar process. Great post, Christy!

  2. Bird by Bird actually changed my life!

    I love this post Christy!

  3. Excellent post, Christy. I still struggle with "writing often," so I'm excited to try implementing your morning pages idea into my routine. Giving myself permission to write like shit is also really hard - I'm a perfectionist.
    Most of the time, I write several things at once, so that I don't forget ideas. I also like to finish something and then let it sit - sometimes for a week, sometimes for years - before I come back and edit/publish. It gives me perspective and allows me to continue thinking through the subject, especially if I'm "angry-writing."

  4. All great advice and all so true. I actually made a resolution this week to write every morning - so this is well-timed! I also love the idea of writing about lunch.

    x Kathryn
    Through the Thicket

  5. I don't have writing advice, but I DO have sympathy for the plastic milk pouches! We had them too! Oy vey...

  6. These are some GREAT tips. Loved this post. I always read my work out loud, it's the best writing advice I've ever gotten. I'm saving this post for whenever I need some advice. Thanks!

  7. Live! It's the best thing a writer can do. Haha. I'm slowly learning to incorporate my life experiences in my writing. It's cathartic.

  8. I love this - I've been struggling to blog recently! When you write three pages is that three A4 pages?!?!

  9. Been struggling with writing for my classes, now I'm going to apply this suggestions and see if it gets better.

  10. These are some goooood tips. Bird by Bird was so helpful for me, but I am still fearful or writing shitty first drafts. Why? I don't know exactly. I'm still trying to figure out why I am so afraid of seeing a bunch of awful words come together and form something I hate that makes me feel like I will never be able to write anything good. Well hey there...I think I just nailed it. Tomorrow, I am totally trying out morning pages!

  11. PREACH! I've been using a few of these lately to come up with blog posts and gotten some good ideas, but I do need to work on actually hitting "publish". I often read my writings out loud and start doubting myself. 'Is it actually funny or am I the only one who giggled? Will people like it?" Etc. I really need to write more for myself.
    Thank you for a wonderful reminder!

  12. I love this! Especially, the 'write about your lunch' tip, and reading everything out loud. I think my favorite piece of writing advice is "don't edit yourself on the first draft". Thanks for posting this!

  13. Hey!

    I just stumbled across your blog and I absolutely love it. You have a great voice and cover so many great topics that I've really enjoyed reading.

    I absolutely loved this post and the tips that I can use often considering writing is something I do for work and pleasure.

    Thanks so much!


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