How I Write Will Not Help You Write Better
Writing Isn't About Waiting but Doing
Even when writing is a calling, gone are the days when a writer could sit around and wait for inspiration if that day ever did actually exist. In reality, writing is unique to the writer. Writing is individual, personal, intimate. Gertrude Stein wrote in 15-minute bursts while her girlfriend was shopping. Peter V. Brett wrote his first epic fantasy novel on his phone while riding the subway. I completed a novel by writing every night for 10 minutes after putting my daughter to sleep.
There is plenty of advice on how to write a story, a book, a memoir, the ways in which you can get it done to then sell millions of copies and become the next world-famous author. But if it were truly that easy, there would plenty of decent novelists and even more great novels. In fact, we do have plenty of decent novelists and even more great novels but there would be even more of an abundance of breathtaking literature out in the world.
How I write may not help you find your best method. Some writers say that you must write daily. Others say that you must develop a routine. I can't tell you what would work for you but I can tell you that I found a way that worked for me.
How I Write In 12 Steps:
1. I sit in the chair
Nothing gets done if you don't sit down and write the first word, then the sentence, and the paragraph. Jodi Picoult said, "You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page."
2. I give myself a time limit
A time limit makes the mission of writing more manageable. I don't have to write for four hours. I won't waste two hours on the internet if I only have 10 minutes. A time limit becomes my friend and pushes me through the terrier barrier.
3. I focus on the story at a time
If my energy or focus is pulled elsewhere, I'll never get the story done. I may have a million ideas demand my attention. I write them down and will come back to them later.
4. I listen to the words, the rhythm, the language
Writing can be like music. I love the music of language. My sentences flow; my words are chosen because of how they sound to give chapter a song.
5. I revise with a focus on one individual technique or theme
Editing can feel overwhelming. I breakdown the components into digestible parts based on their elements like point of view or the setting rather than try to do it all at once.
6. I look at how I am telling the story
I look at the voice and vision I have for the story. Is it coming together? Is it correct? I'll change the voice, the vision, the point of view and see how that changes not only the chapter but those that surround it.
7. I make modular chapters
I don't write linearly. Each chapter is its own miniature story.
8.I move sections and scenery
Because each chapter is its own tiny narrative with its own little arc, I can move them around and explore how they build and grow from one another.
9.I look for connections between chapters
After moving them, I see how they fit in their new shape and in what ways I can connect them, or in what ways they are already connected.
10. I rewrite, move chapters again, change scenery again, and repeat it all again
I lather, rinse, and repeat until it feels right.
11. Then I have a story
12. Then I do it all again
How can you write?
I can't give you that answer. But it's ok to experiment. It's ok to try a writing challenge, create an outline, or just sit down and write indifferently. It's ok to write in long stretches of time on the weekend or to spend five minutes when waiting for a train. It's ok to tell your friends you can't help them move or to find a community of writers who understand your frustration.
Ray Bradbury said "'Don't think!' You must never think at the typewriter-you must feel. Your intellect is always buried in that feeling anyway." So take the time right now to not think, to write string together four words and see what words come after.
How do you write? Think about your goal. Think about why you want to write at all. Now think about how do you want to write.