“Always write when you are just a tad hungry.” This is a piece of writing advice I read somewhere or heard from someone maybe, like, ten years ago. I’m not sure who originally said it, so if you know, please inform me, but I have to say…this is crap.
Whenever I write when I am “just a tad hungry” I get “just a tad hungrier” until I am “just kind of raiding the fridge to see if I drunk ate my leftovers or not.” No writing actually gets done.
I have noticed something about the world of authors and poets and editors and writers. When I started to actually try and improve my writing by sitting in workshops and joining author networks and buying books entitled, “What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers”, I found everybody who is even the tiniest bit successful, or who thinks they are any good at stringing words together into a sentence, is chomping at the bit to give you their advice. From one writer to another: how to write better, write more, writer darker, write funnier…the list goes on. I’ve heard a lot of trick-of-the-trade slogans, and some of them are really good, but some of them, like whoever thought it would be a good idea to make me write when I haven’t eaten yet, are not.
So, I’m going to be kind of shameful. I’m going to talk about my process and maybe offer a little advice as well. If everybody else is doing it, why shouldn’t I? But, I will add a disclaimer before I start: if my wisdom seems absolutely absurd to you, feel free to ignore it. As writers, we have to do whatever works best for us so that we are consistently producing work. It’s when you aren’t writing that you can’t really call yourself a writer, and those people bother me. I’ll talk more about them in a bit.
Anyway, here is what I do and why it works for me.
Start off early.
One thing I really try to do is write in the morning. This is something that probably won’t work for a lot of writers, because I feel like we tend to be a nocturnal bunch, and on any given night you can find us torturing ourselves at four in the morning over an adjective. But, I’ve noticed that if I start the day with coffee and a thousand words, I tend to continue going back to what I’ve started throughout the day, and, thus, getting more done. I also think with more clarity in the AM, as I am pretty much a worthless Netflixian by eight o’clock at night.
Admit that I am not a genius.
It took me a long time to realize that a first draft is terrible. All the time. No exceptions. I used to indulge myself in the belief that I was so brilliant that I could vomit onto a word document and it would be Pulitzer-worthy. Obviously, this isn’t true, and I have since learned. The editing and rereading part of the writing process isn’t a walk in the park, in fact often it can be a stroll through hell, but, gosh, it is so necessary. It took me a while to admit that. But here’s what I have learned: your work gets better every single time you go over it. Every time. No exceptions.
Refuse to rely on whatever is sloshing around inside my skull to hold my ideas. Make lists.
I imagine that the inside of my brain looks a little bit like an episode of TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive. This is no place to store ideas! Until I can get some professionals to come in and clean up the stacks of things I have piled up in my brain, I have to consciously make myself write down every notion that occurs to me, whether it be for a story, my blog, my novel, whatever. If I do not write it down, there is a 100% chance I will lose it. This is why my room is covered with checklists written on pieces of printer paper folded in half, the Notes app on my phone is the most used, and my school binders have scribblings in all the margins.
Set a word count for the day and hit it.
This is easier said than done, and often I don’t actually reach my goal. But novels are made a little at a time, and on the days I get really into it and look up to realize I’ve written almost a dozen pages, it’s really satisfying. It is then that I am reminded why I love doing this.
Know that this is actually hard.
This is where I talk about those “writers” who bother me. Being a writer is not sitting in a coffee shop and acting pretentious and wearing elbow patches and seeking out first editions of novels written by old dead guys. I think people who do that, but don’t actually write anything, are just romanticizing the bohemian lifestyle. It makes me mad, because those people aren’t writers, they’re hipsters or beatniks, and they call themselves writers and give us a bad name. Being a real writer consists of sitting on your computer and creating work and then doing whatever you can to make it better. It takes hours, it’s not glamorous, and when I am “being a writer” I am pretty much sitting in a corner of the couch in my sweatpants with my hair bundled on top of my head and I look like I have a terminal disease. I think if those elbow-patch-wearers actually did the work and didn’t put some much effort into being a phony, they’d probably shed their tweed jackets. There’s a really funny YouTube video, The Nine Types of Writers, that illustrates my point.
And here’s one final tip.
The best advice I ever got when I was an art major was to “draw what you see.” When you’re working on a still life, often you are tempted to draw things the way you think they are supposed to look instead of drawing them the way they actually appear to you from the angle where you are sitting. I think this can be applied to writing too. Write exactly what you see, hear, feel. Not how you want it to be. I think that’s where the magic happens.
About a year ago, I wrote an article for Tremr called Dear Author’s Lament, all about how in love with my first novel I was and how it’s really hard to start up a new one. In a way, I was grieving it, not being in that world of Broken Haven construction anymore. But, I’m happy to say, I’m well over half way finished with a second book, and I think it’s going to be better. So, I’m going to go work on it now, because that’s what writers do. Stay tuned.