Ink and paper are sometimes passionate lovers; often times brother and sister; and occasionally mortal enemies. —Terri Guillemets
Upon learning that I love to write, several of my students have stared at me with big, incredulous eyes and slight expressions of horror. Sometimes, they even mutter the most startled of questions:
“How do you do that?”
“You wrote a novel, Miss Rieder? How could you write that long? I hate writing!”
I suppose there may have been a time that I didn’t love writing as much as I do now, long, long ago and beyond the farthest reaches of my memory. The truth is, all of us who love writing still have moments where we despise this torturous thing we do, when the act itself feels akin to gauging one’s eyes out with a dirtied, garbage disposal-marred fork.
But then it comes to you—that rush of an idea, that slick purge of words, phrases, and sentences all joined together by a neat sequence of punctuation and tempo. Your blood warms, your pulse races, and you delve right back into that which you love and enjoy. You forget the agony that was your momentary frustration. It’s as if, once again, you’ve found your passion, and by letting the words pour onto the screen before you, you have let your soul free to discover something trapped deep within, ready to emerge onto the world.
So what do you do to get there? How do you practice the art of writing enough to be able to feel that spark more easily and more often? How, exactly, does one write?
I am by no means an expert, nor would I claim to be. However, I have found that by diligently sticking to it over the years, the time it took to produce something became less of a strain and instead, a treasured activity. Here are some of the strategies that led me to enjoy writing more regularly:
- Write everyday. This is the best tip any writer will ever give you. I’ve read it a thousand times over, and each time, I vigorously nod my head in agreement. Whether you write in a journal, set a daily word quota for your book, jot a poem on a café napkin, or simply carve out x minutes to ignore the world and write a few sentences, you’ll get there. My favorite strategy? Once the kids leave for lunch, I try to write for ten minutes before I eat. What I’ve written churns around in the back of my mind for the rest of the day, and then at night I can flesh the ideas out further.
- Carry post-its everywhere. This is both a helpful assist and a colorful way to decorate everything in your life—my white kitchen cupboards have a minimum of six pink or yellow post-its of ideas, phrases, names, or characters at any given moment, all jotted down on post-its while I was at the gym, in the car, at work, or out with friends. Keep them in your bag, your binder, or even your wallet.
- Turn off the phone when you write. I break this rule for myself all the time, and when the phone rings I kick myself for forgetting. If you’re writing, write. Ignore the the rest of world, you have something to do.
- Watch the people around you. That alone can inspire characters and story lines that you long to tell about.
- Read the first page of your favorite book. Remember the spark of excitement you felt when you read it the first time? Use that sensation as inspiration to create something just as intriguing for your own audience.
- Force yourself to sit in front of the keyboard for a specific length of time. No internet, no games; just you and an open document. A white screen is blinding. Black words on it are far less jarring. Start writing!
- Keep a card catalog of ideas. These may be transfers from your post-its, or just something you do in your spare time. I have a file divided into three parts: one for names, one for ideas, and one for settings. Even if I’m not using something from the file, sometimes just thumbing through it gets me motivated.
- Don’t forget to take a break. This may seem like a total contradiction to my first recommendation, but once you’ve been writing faithfully everyday and you’ve built a momentum, you occasionally hit a wall. It happens. Take the evening off and relax with a good book, letting your brain dwell on someone else’s hard work instead of yours. Tomorrow, pick it up again.
There are thousands of strategies out there—you just have to find the set that works for you. If you really want to write, eventually you’ll find your rhythm and will be able to stick to it. Practice and patience—and lots of time—will eventually turn writing into something that you love.
Happy writing, everyone!