Tuesday, June 08, 2021

How I write regularly (Jeanne's tips)

I share with my writing students at Wesleyan a list of tips for those who want to write more often -- to keep writing as a regular practice. The students typically aren't undergrads, but part-time graduate students who have lives like the rest of us, and don't have the luxury of a daily cache of hours to dedicate to write.

And I thought these tips might be useful for folks as the summer approaches and some aspiring /former/could-be writers with children will have little people home more often (or even more often, given the remote pandemic schooling saga). You can write around little people -- shoot, you can write ABOUT little people -- but writing does require concentration and if your kid is like mine, he has a lifetime supply of questions written on a series of invisible post-it notes that he keeps pulling out of his pocket. So some tips might be handy.

(If you are an aspiring writer without children, the summer is a great time to try out some new writing habits because the world as a whole is a bit looser, and you'll probably have a vacation or a weekend getaway planned. Take a notebook on that ferry to Fire Island! Buy a diary or even a day planner and write "Vermont Journal" on the first page, then see what you're inspired to jot down.)

Note, this post is not about how to publish regularly or how to land a book contract or an agent.

Simply, how to find time to write, and how to appreciate the small writing opportunities that come your way.

OK, here goes.

First step. Do an inventory of your days and/or of a typical week. Where are there already pockets of time that you could use for writing? To my students, I might say, for example, you take your laundry to the laundromat. Could you write while you wait for your clothes to dry? Or maybe you take a child to sports practice. Could you carve out a few minutes to write on the sidelines, even if what you write is more akin to notes or lists? If these two examples don’t fit your life, that’s no problem – and beside the point. The point is, what time do you already have at your disposal that you can devote to writing without making any large changes in your schedule or your habits? That proverbial 'time to kill.' Kill it by writing!

Second step. Where are there moments in your day or your week when you could be writing but instead are doing something that doesn’t have a real return on investment and isn’t a required activity? Maybe mindlessly scrolling on your phone or watching TV? That’s not to say either activities are bad or to be avoided at all times. But could they be reduced? Only you can decide. You may have appointment TV watching that you use for your own personal sanity. That’s understandable. But are there any habits of marginal personal return – often consisting of passive consumption of some kind – that could be converted into writing time?

Third step. Could you wake up 30 minutes earlier? (Maybe not – but what if you could?) Could you stay at work 30 minutes longer and jot down some ideas? I’ve realized (all too late) that I am a natural early riser and so now I wake up most mornings, brew an Italian coffee and get to work. No one else is up and I am alone with my thoughts and my writing (see below for more on this trick).

Also: What about exchanging work with a friend once a month? Knowing you’re expected – and have the chance – to share writing should motivate you to put something down on paper.

Tools. Can you carry a notebook wherever you go? A small one. Slip it into your shirt pocket or a purse. What about stowing a journal in your car? Keep it on the passenger seat (if it’s free!) and open it up at a stop light or write for a few minutes when you arrive early to an appointment.

Tricks. What’s something you love doing? Going to coffee shops? Eating chocolate? Taking walks alone or with your dog? Could you combine that activity with writing? Make it an activity you do not have to be convinced to do – something you love to do. And bring along a writing implement and get to work. Similarly, is there a place where you feel inspired or at peace? Maybe a beloved hiking trail or even the dog park. Could you go there and write?

For more about keeping a notebook, take a look at this piece I wrote for Longreads.

Happy writing!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading the blog!