Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Habits

  1. Don't be coy. If you write, even if you only do so infrequently, you're a writer. Learn to think that way, then give your art the space in your life that it deserves.
  2. Daydream wildly. Let your stories, your images, your characters walk around with you while you drive to work, do the shopping, boil spaghetti, take a walk.
  3. Take care of yourself. Speaking of taking walks, invest your time in non-writing habits that keep your body and your brain healthy and alert. So, walk. Run, jog, dance. Eat well, sleep well.
  4. Cull your own life experiences for writing ideas, and especially for details.
  5. Be a generalist. Read everything, learn everything. It's all compost, ready to give rich soil and nourishment to your stories.
  6. Imitate. This is our first and most useful means of learning new skills. This is how we learn spoken language, body language, and--more than we realize--written language. Take your favorite passage or poem and try to copy the grammatical patterns, the sound rhythms, or the structure.
  7. Read. This is how you find words worth imitating. Read in and out of your genre. Read the books you love, not necessarily the books you ought to love. By habitual reading, we develop an internal sense of rhythm and rightness, an array of instincts: the structure of a sentence, a paragraph, a story, how to build a scene, when to end an chapter, how to begin and end an entire book, how to characterize, how to stylize dialogue, much more.
  8. Cross-Train. Prose-writers should try their hand at poetry and play-writing, and vice-versa. Not only does it extend and strengthen how you use language, but writing in a different form also gives you the freedom of being a novice. Here, mistakes and clumsiness are part of the fun.
  9. Take risks. Every now and again, you must try to get away with the implausible, the overly sentimental, the hokey, the outright out-there. It will free the part of your brain that dreams this stuff up. Plus--and here's the really great part--every once in a long, long while, you actually get away with the implausible, the sentimental, the hokey, the way, way out-there.
  10. Be Persistent. Persistence is called for in every stage of the game. Your drafts must be thoroughly dreamed, then thoroughly, painstakingly revised. You must be persistent in seeking the company of others who inspire you, who will read your drafts and open them up to even deeper revision. Be persistent when you're ready to send it out. Most of all, be persistent in a daily writing habit. Live the writer's life.

These are the ones that I know of, that I strive to practice consistently. Tell me: which habits, either listed here or ones I haven't thought of, do you find the most helpful? Which are the most difficult to keep to? Which do you find to be the most sustaining?


Jessie Carty said...

I love that you call writing in another genre cross training. I love that! These are really great tips.

A good one for me, whenever I'm feeling a bit lost and not able to write, is to read writing that really inspires me. That gets me going again :)

Susan Woodring said...

Oh, yes, I agree, Jessie. I keep a stack of favorites by my computer for inspiration.

Kathy said...

I'm going to print out your list and tack it above my computer. I tend to forget, especially #3. Thanks for including it.

Lorna said...

I love the Take Risks one and apply it to all the various parts of my life. I don't mean thrill-seeking risks, but measured, I-know-how-much-this-could-hurt risks. I'm often surprised by how little it hurts, and how great it feels.

Susan Woodring said...

Kathy, I've only recently begun to understand the connection between being able to create and tending to my physical well-being. I've learned: sluggish body = sluggish brain.

Susan Woodring said...

Lorna, I agree with you that the taking-risks habit could be applied to nearly every part of our lives. It's about exploring the possibilities, branching out.