The thought of writing a book can be daunting, even for those who have done it before.
As a writing coach, editor, and author of five books, I still sometimes freak out about starting a new project. Or I will start and stop. Start and stop. That’s when I know it’s time to remind myself of what helps my writing flow. Some of the most important things in life we must learn again and again.
May these tips be of benefit to you on your own writing journey:
1. One-inch picture frames. When I write a little each day without worrying about writing “a book,” I relax. All books are written a page at a time. I allow myself to enjoy focusing on the details of a given moment. And I know they will build. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls writing little bits at a time “one-inch picture frames.”
2. Momentum without burnout. Similarly, writing most days creates momentum. In Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey examines the working lives of famous writers and artists from the 19th century to the present. He reveals that prolific artists work most days to take advantage of momentum. But not all day, every day. Generally three or four hours a day—with a day or two off a week. More work than that can become self-sabotaging, leading to burnout. This four-hour pace is about creating a body of work, living a sustainable life as an artist. By writing two to four hours a day six days a week, I wrote first drafts of my novels and my memoir in three to six months.
3. Read. Books about writing have always helped me free up. I like to dip back into my favorites now and again, especially the ones that help me loosen up and trust the flow: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (mentioned above), Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind and Gabriele Rico’s Writing the Natural Way. I’m also a fan of Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life, which years ago gave me permission to geek out on this literary stuff I love.
4. Read More. I read memoirs, essays, poetry, literary fiction, pop novels, nonfiction, websites, travel blogs—you name it. Whatever lights my fire. Sometimes people will “admit” to me, while avoiding my eye, that they like to read John Grisham or young adult novels or Fifty Shades of Gray. I say, “Love what you love! Write what you want to write!” As David Grohl said, “I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f***ing like something, like it.”
5. Read Like a Writer. When I’m stuck or stumped, I turn to the books I love and revisit them as a writer. In other words, I pay attention to what those writers do to suck me into the story and keep it moving forward. There was something I loved about the structure and flow of Tobias Wolf’s Old School. When I re-read it through the eyes of craft, I saw how he began each chapter with a riff on the past and then jumped forward in time. I ended up using that technique in my first novel. And writers can always scour books with whatever questions we have: how to make a character come alive, how to write funny dialogue, how to effectively end a story. The best teachers are right on our shelves.
6. Writing groups. Over the years I’ve belonged to a number of writing groups. Sometimes we give each other assignments and write together. More often we bring in what we are working on to receive feedback and encouragement. Many published books have grown out of writing groups, including my first novel and Frances Mayes’ bestseller, Under the Tuscan Sun.
7. Thinking that Benefits Us. Willa Cather said, “If I made a chore of it, my enthusiasm would die. I make an adventure of it every day.” Adventures can be arduous. They can have scary moments. But we love them! We choose them! On an adventure, fear transmutes to excitement. Thinking of writing as an adventure works much better for me than to think of it as “opening a vein” or slogging through and suffering.
8. Meditative pep talk. Each day before I write, I sit before my computer with my hands on my lap, take a deep breath and close my eyes. Then I focus on a what I call a meditative pep talk, an inner rallying cry that allows me to relax and write more freely. Mine usually goes something like this: I’m writing today because I choose it. It’s an adventure! It’s about allowing, not forcing. It’s about being curious and joyful. I am doing this because I love it. I’m willing to make a mess, like a finger-painting kid. I trust my instincts. My unconscious will guide me. I’m willing to get lost in the dream of writing. I have a friend who wrote her meditative pep talk on a piece of paper and taped it above her desk. As she put it, it helped remind her to enjoy the process.
Author: Kate Evans
Image: Florian Klauer/Unsplash
Editor: Toby Israel