The New Writing Rules
Reading is my love, but writing is my obsession. I’ve devoured the advice of famous authors, consumed countless writing blogs and podcasts, and recently discovered the world of ‘authortube’. This year I’m giving myself permission to delve even deeper into my obsession and spend on some author memoirs I’ve always wanted to read. On Writing by Stephen King and Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott are two I’ve had my eye on for a while.
What strikes me is how there is no one route to becoming a great a writer, and no set formula for what makes a novel great. The reasons I love Mythago Wood are completely different to the reasons why I love Wide Sargasso Sea. Every writer has a different routine, a different code to live by. The creative process is mysterious and fascinating.
The liberating variety of successful author’s routines suggests that the only writing rules to follow are the ones you create for yourself. With that in mind I’ve set myself some personal writing rules to guide me through the year…
1) Diary regularly – I’ve kept a diary since I was fourteen and for many years it was a daily habit. Last year, ironically the year I decided to take my writing seriously, I stopped altogether, and I’m feeling the loss. My diary was the only place I could be my most authentic self, where I expressed every thought, fear and dream without judgement. I mentioned in my last post that I’m starting The Artist’s Way in February. Part of the appeal was the morning pages, a daily, non-negotiable exercise that requires you to write three pages of long-hand, stream of conscious thoughts. It’s the nudge I need to get back to my old diary writing habit.
2) Write to the end of the pencil – A habit I developed last year which releases me of all expectations. When I sit down to write I tell myself that the only goal is to write to the end of the pencil. This trick eliminates fear – I don’t need to come up with a good idea or even write a good sentence. My only task is to make the pencil smaller. The effect on my productivity is startling. I’ve also found that the best ideas live beyond the halfway point of the pencil…
3) Protect reading time as much as writing time – To be a good writer you must read far more than you write. It is by reading that we learn how to write, and by reading that we find the gaps that need filled. It is also the best source of creative inspiration I know. Yet there is a voice in my head that tells me reading is pleasurable and therefore idle. This voice is poisonous. Sustained writing (output) is only possible if nourished by regular reading (input) – I need to be mindful of topping up my ‘creative well’ before it runs dry. The artists’ dates outlined in The Artist’s Way is a way is another exercise I’m looking forward to for that reason – I can’t think of anything more nourishing than taking my current read to the café for an hour.
4) Do what works – I always thought being a writer was about discipline. As a Taurus I have this trait in spades. But last year I started to learn that being committed to writing isn’t about the hours I spend at my desk (often stuck, willing ideas to come), it’s about having fun. I write because I enjoy creating stories but somewhere along the line I’ve made things too rigorous. This year I want to find the techniques that work for me and stick with them only for as long as they serve me. Maybe I achieve more in twenty-minute bursts throughout the day? Perhaps a bullet journal is a fun way to stay organised? If going to a café frees me from distraction so that I write more in one hour than I would in a whole morning at home, then that’s £2.70 well spent.
5) Finish things – I’ve been working on my novel for a long time. While there’s no right or wrong timeframe in which to finish a novel, I suspect my perfectionism is procrastination in disguise. I do the work, but having set myself impossible standards, the odds of finishing are stacked against me. Maybe done is better than perfect.
I hope this post encourages you to think about what works for you writing-wise and maybe even inspires you to create your own writing rules. I’d love to hear any you come up with in the comments below!