Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How To Write Well And Write Often (Part 2)

A few weeks back, I set out to create a blog post filled with some of my favorite pieces of writing advice, things I've learned from experts and through my own process working as a writer. I quickly realized, however, that I had far too much to say for one post, so I ominously titled it "How to Write Well And Write Often: PART ONE." If you have been holding your breath waiting for Part II, you are most certainly dead because I wrote that post three weeks ago. Whoops. 

But for those of my readers who are still alive and kicking, please enjoy these leftover bits of writing wisdom:

Take yourself on "artist dates"

This little nugget comes from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, the same book that introduced me to the concept of morning pages (I wrote about those in Part One). While morning pages should be written every single day, artist dates should occur at least once weekly. Artist dates are outings that you take in order to engage your inner child. These should be solitary activities, i.e. don't bring your hubs or your kids or your fun coworker. Just spend time feeding your own artistic brain. This can be as involved as going to a museum across town or as simple as taking a walk in your neighborhood. Just commit to getting out there and having a new experience. It will refresh your mind and consistently provide new material for your writing. Plus, you can casually brag about all the hot dates you've been going on, and it will leave everyone intrigued and possibly concerned. 

Create short assignments*

This is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do sort of situation. I'm straight up terrible at creating short assignments, but I want to get better. What I often do instead is I sit down at my desk with lofty dreams about the wonderful things I am going to write, and then when I inevitably do not succeed in completing the next great American novel, I sulk. I feel defeated, I pout, and I refuse to let myself enjoy anything for the rest of the day. This is the outcome of having unrealistic expectations, and if you're anything like me, then you know that this is a pretty discouraging feeling. Here's what you should do instead: expect less of yourself. Yeah, there, I said it. Ask yourself, "Self, what do I want to accomplish today?" and whatever your immediate answer is, cut it in half. Say you want to get two pages done. Screw that, change it to one page. Then write that one page, and then eat a cookie. Seriously, actually eat a cookie. Reward yourself and rejoice in the fact that you are in control of this process, that is, as long as you don't have an editor breathing down your neck (a terrifying feeling, by the way). Plus, think about it: if you stick to all of your short assignments, you are going to get a lot more done than if you waste time beating yourself up over the impossible goals you set. 

*This lesson, by the way, comes from Anne Lammott's Bird By Bird, which I already mentioned in Part One, and you know what, what the hell, just buy the damn book already. It really is worth it. 

If you think you can get rid of it, you probably can.

Maybe you've heard the expression, "Kill your darlings," which has been attributed to tons of famous authors, so I'm not even going to go down that rabbit hole. But anyway, "kill your darlings" means that all of those self-indulgent, mushy paragraphs with which you have fallen in love have got to go. For the good of your writing, you've got to get rid of stuff you adore. My rule for editing is that any word or sentence that has the faintest scent of "I could do without this" -- get rid of it. It hurts. It feels like a swift punch to the gut, but it makes a world of difference.

Write sober, edit sober.

Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying "Write drunk; edit sober," but once again, tons of people believe this to be a misattribution, so whatever. Regardless, even though this wisdom is full of wit and spirit, in practice, I think it's pretty crappy advice. I've tried to write drunk before, and it usually results in Word Documents filled with gems like: "Night donuts are good. Donuts are good at nighttime." That, or I fall asleep before I can write a thing. In my opinion, write sober. Be present for the writing process. And if anything, edit drunk so that you'll be more likely to make rash decisions about what to get rid of.

"Write it down"

It sounds simple, but it's some of the best advice I've ever received. These three words are frequently spoken to me by my dear friend, Patrick. Any time I say something funny or share a somewhat interesting thought, he laughs and says, "Write it down." His reason for doing so is because, well, he knows me. He knows that my memory is basically a drunk toddler. I can't depend on it for anything. So often in life, I'll have a thought that I want to remember, then I will turn to look at a bird eating a cigarette, and by the time I collect myself, I've already forgotten what I wanted to store in my brain. That's why it is essential for me to write things down. Everything. Every tiny, seemingly insignificant glimmer of an idea goes into a notebook or the notes app on my phone or onto the sweaty palm of my hand. For me, most of the writing process happens when I'm not even writing at all, but rather when I'm out experiencing the world (on the train, in conversations, on my artist dates, etc.) That's why I dedicate myself to being a compulsive collector of every bizarre thing the world throws at me. Otherwise, I assure you, I would have legitimately nothing to write about. 

What is your best piece of writing advice?


  1. Great post that comes at a really great time for me. I'll definitely keep these in mind as I try to re-motivate myself!

  2. I just LOVE your "drunken toddler" description. I wasn't aware that we've already met but we must. How could you otherwise describe me so perfectly.
    I do take notes too - a lot but wished I even wrote down more stuff.

    Thanks for all your tips. Really appreciate them.
    Have a great weekend,

  3. Love these tips! Even with my blog, I find that I don't write often enough. I find I start to write, stop, edit, stop, and then never continue, then I look back weeks later and delete the half completed work I've done. It can be very discouraging, but none the less, I think if I jsut keep forcing myself to put the "pen to paper" eventually it will come more naturally.

  4. My memory is ALSO like a drunken toddler!! I have been using my phone's calendar & notes to write down just about everything that pops into my mind for a few years now & I definitely think it helps keep me organized & productive in life in general. It's so annoying when people ask me why I write everything down :)

  5. "Plus, you can casually brag about all the hot dates you've been going on, and it will leave everyone intrigued and possibly concerned. " I literally laughed out loud, thank you for the great writing tips, and the laughs, Christy.


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