Julia Cameron advocates “morning pages.” Three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. Every morning. The Artist’s Way.
Natalie Goldberg recommends writing daily for at least twenty minutes. Free the writer within. Keep your hand moving, lose control, and don’t think. Writing Down the Bones.
Stephen King prescribes the writing routine of butt-in-chair habitually. Set writing goals and write 500, or 1,000, or 2000 words a day. Stephen King: On Writing.
Anne Lamott suggests you write whether you feel like it or not, even when you think the writing isn’t any good. When Anne Lamott’s brother had a report on birds due the next day which he’d had a month to prepare without having written a word, he became immobilized by the task at hand. Their father offered the sage writing advice: Bird by Bird.
What if you can’t make time to write every day? What if those morning pages really are nothing but navel gazing and lead nowhere? Does the daily discipline demanded by writing gurus make you feel like a failure as a writer? Does making a “job” of writing take all the joy out of the creative writing experience?
Historical fiction author Tracy Chevalier described her writing practice in a recent essay for The Guardian. “Part of me wishes it were easy to describe my typical writing day. I have heard about them, those smug productive hours when a writer – usually male, it has to be said – sits down each day at 9 am with an espresso, writes till 1, makes bouillabaisse, writes from 2 till 5, plays tennis, and after supper sits with a glass of single malt whisky reading over what he’s written that day. That is a scenario I both crave and detest. It will never be that controlled and disciplined for me.” She describes her advanced procrastination techniques, the thrills of doing research, and the necessity of blocking out large chunks of time when life is boring and she has a clear run of days without distraction to write. It’s refreshing to hear an author disclose there are other effective methods of writing.
True confession. I’m a binge-and-purge writer. I get intermittent and irresistible cravings to write. Often triggered by consuming high-quality literature, extended periods of research, or emotional arousal. Periods of compulsive prose production characterized by an obsession with literary craft. An excessive or uncontrolled indulgence, a bender, a jag, a spree, an orgy. I purge the feelings, memories, facts, images, dialogue, scenes, and story and get it out of my head and onto the page. A cathartic release. An evacuation, ejaculation, expulsion, ejection. The Vomit Draft.
Anne Lamott tells writers to give themselves permission to write a “sh*tty” first draft. Avoid editing until you have written the first full version of their manuscript. Incrementally. Day by day.
The vomit draft is a bit more abrupt, forceful, and immediate in delivery. The result is pretty much the same. It’s not always pretty, but you can work with it. Then the process of revising, editing, and rewriting can begin.
Getting the story out of your head and onto the empty page is a magical process and it’s more important to know what works for you to make the magic happen than to follow the “how-to” advice of others. I’m not advocating binge-writing, because it won’t compensate for procrastination, disorganization, lack of focus or concentration, or working through your thoughts in your head. But for those who need to clear their brain of all extraneous matters and their calendar of all competing distractions before they tackle writing long, binge-writing may be a method you shouldn’t feel guilty about using.
How do you get your writing mojo going?
Six or seven years ago my advice to aspiring authors of nonfiction books was to build an audience platform by blogging. An example of how critical blogging could be to securing a publishing contract can be found in the case of Ann Marie Ackermann, author of Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee. After an initial assessment of her manuscript, I had recommended she start a historical true-crime blog, and she did. In fact, the editor of the ideal book series at Kent State University Press became a fan ofRead more…