I’ve been teaching creative writing now for more that twenty-five years, and here are my best tips for starting your new writing year:
First, schedule your writing time like you would a dentist’s appointment. Why? Because as Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing; I love to have written.” We all hate going to the dentist, and most of the time, we also hate writing – coming up with words for the page is like pulling teeth. But after we’ve gotten the gumption and gotten it done, the afterglow of the results ranges from satisfaction to ecstasy.
So put it down on your calendar. And then, as soon as it is over, schedule your follow-up visit before you leave the office or you’ll never get around to it.
Next, during your writing session, don’t sit in front of a blank page trying to come up with something to say. Rather, let your mind wander to favorite memories, favorite subjects, or even to problems, worries or fears, and just write about them. Consider it a warm-up exercise before you get your game on.
As you warm-up, you’ll find that your mind naturally begins to feel its way around the subject you intend to write about. And at some point, you’ll come up with an idea on that topic that is so logistically important or emotionally powerful to that you find you’ve already started writing about it instead of the warm-up topics.
Third, never try to force the Muse to work on a story problem. Cut her free. By nature, she is full of boundless energy and wants to explore your creative mind with reckless abandon. Try to shackle your Muse to the task at hand, and she’ll balk. But if you let her run wild, even if it is WAAAAY off topic, it is like another warm-up exercise in the middle of the long routine of writing. Every once in a while you need to come up for air, feed your head, and give your heart some candy. In short, don’t feel that once you start working on your actual story that you can’t diverge whenever the Muse stands at the door with her leash asking to go for a walk.
Fourth, write about what you love. Sure, we all have dreams of writing a great novel or script, and perhaps we will, but don’t let that make you choose a less epic topic because you think it has the potential to be more noteworthy. In fact, the odds of writing something truly meaningful go WAY down if you don’t write about what moves you personally.
But here’s the rub – this is a real pisser for me personally… The kinds of stories I like to read are not the kinds of stories I’m very good at writing. Man, that gets stuck in my craw! I want to write sci-fi-ish action stories of great adventure, incredible discovery and amazing tales of triumph over unbelievable odds! But every time I try it is all mechanical, stilted, or (worst of all) completely lame.
Yep, I’d also like to be a pastry chef, but I’m good at making sauces. I’d like to be a chess champion, but I flub it all up, yet I can triumph in checkers or tic-fracking-tac-freaking-toe. My private horror (don’t tell anybody): what I’m good at is this. Yes, this. Writing inspiring articles so others can write all the wonderful things I’d like to write. What manner of hell is this?
Not to worry, though. I’ve just started a new novel, and for the first time it is something I really, really, really want to work on. I’m actually enjoying the writing of it and can’t wait until the next session – not like a dentist’s appointment at all: more like an ice cream social.
Yep, that happens too. But not often. So don’t wait for it – do the other stuff I’ve mentioned and get things “wrote” in between the rare bromance with a flirty story you just can’t resist.
I eventually came to the conclusion I’d rather write what comes naturally than get perpetually stuck trying to write what I like to read. If I want that other kind of story – the one I’m no good at – I’ll read somebody else’s. So, I’ve finally embraced the awful, yet sobering and even somehow calming notion that it is better to be a carefree pianist, bringing music into the world with little effort at all, than a continually struggling trombonist, blurting out a few stilted notes and never affecting anyone nor even finding satisfaction in my own work.
Summing up then my tips for your new writing year…
I urge you all to set up that time where you are forced (by resolution) to do nothing. And from that nothing will rise your Muse like a Kraken of Creativity, snarling out its arms to embrace every shiny, beckoning or threatening notion within its horizon, consuming it, and spewing out prose of a grand and powerful ilk upon the world, upon yourself, upon your soul.
May God have mercy upon us all, for we are writers.
Now get Kraken in this new year, for God’s sake (and for your own)!
Melanie Anne Phillips
Oh – and you might want to try this too: