Every writer has a certain methodology (or lack of) when it comes to their writing practice. I used to be of the David Foster Wallace variety— the kind with no specific writing practice. I only wrote when the urge hit. I realized this wasn’t going to sustain a long-time career, and my writing practice has recently become more regimented. I now write daily. I’ve not come to the point where I set a word count for the day or a specific time frame under which to work, but I do write daily.
What I make sure to do, though, is take up a practice which will make my writing better. Whether it be a class or an unorthodox technique I don’t usually employ, I like to keep things interesting. This keeps me from getting into that “writer’s rut” which then turns into writer’s block. Here are some methods I’ve used. I hope you’ll find one or more of them useful as well.
“What makes good art is the people who are paying very close attention to the human stuff that goes on around them.” -Steve Almond
1. Go to a restaurant alone
Uncomfortable? Probably. But going to a restaurant alone gives you a chance to observe. What are the people around you doing? What are they eating? What are they talking about? I once observed a table of six with one young woman in particular hogging the conversation. All members at the table were dressed in attire that suggested affluence, including this young woman, but for some reason she didn’t seem to fit. It was as though she was trying too hard. After watching her for a while, my mind started to race about why she didn’t fit, who she was, why she was there, and so on. Before I knew it, I’d created a plot in my mind— all because I was observing.
2. Pick an object
Any object. Go open up the neglected junk drawer in your kitchen and pull out anything. Then write about it. See if the object brings up any memories. Relate the object to other areas of your life. Allow yourself to have fun with this. Do your best to refrain from self-judgment and self-editing. Let it flow, and see what happens.
3. Take a class
I believe in lifelong learning. Classes are a great way to stay fresh and learn new techniques. So many online and in-person classes are available. Here are a few examples:
Creative Nonfiction has a variety of online classes available to hone your craft if you fancy yourself a nonfiction writer. Their classes are reasonably priced and their teachers are seasoned professionals.
Looking to write for magazines? Seasoned freelance writers, Carol Tice and Linda Formechelli offer one of most useful writing classes I’ve ever taken called Pitch Clinic. The class covers how to hone topics and pitch to editors. They even hire editors to critique your work (we’re talking Redbook, Runner’s World… the big editors).
Look for a class in you area. We have an incredible nonprofit in my area called Keep St. Pete Lit. They’ve partnered with local businesses and seasoned writers to offer the community a variety of classes. Even though I have a degree in Creative Writing, every class I’ve taken since taught me something.
4. Free write, cluster, list, outline, etc.
All of these writing exercises might seem pointless, but you’d be surprised. Clustering helps me connect ideas that would otherwise seem to have no common ground. Outlining (sometimes) helps keep my wandering mind on track. Free writing often brings me to unexpected thoughts and ideas, which I wouldn’t have considered writing about had I not used free writing as a tool. These tools, because they are so free or, on the other hand, regimented, tend to give us an extra edge when we add them into our writing practice. Whether honing an idea, coming up with a plot or discovering the true meaning of why we’re writing what we’re writing, these writing exercises give us new ammo.
5. Draft without editing
For the love of all things writing related, give this one a shot. Perfectionism is the major downfall of many writers. Perfectionism has me editing as I write, which means I spend 20 minutes on a word I don’t like as I try to come up with one I like better. It means I let the inner critic come out and play too long, and generally, I don’t get much actual writing accomplished. I started using something called the Pomodoro Technique so I could write more in a shorter period of time. For a solid 20 minutes, I write. No editing. No revising. No pondering better word choice. I just write. I set the timer for 20 minutes and write until it dings.
6. Play with segmenting
Segmenting, braiding, flashbacks, flash forwards. Play with some element of formatting you haven’t played with before. It’ll stretch your imagination and make you think differently, which could lead you to a breakthrough or introduce you to a new form you didn’t know you had an interest in.
7. Write in an actual notebook
This is my preferred method. When I use a notebook or a journal, I’m forced to slow down, and it’s much easier not to self-edit with a pen to paper rather than fingers to the keyboard. The act of writing is also therapeutic for me. Also, I don’t have to worry about the battery dying or looking for a power connection if I have a notebook with me rather than a laptop.
What have you incorporated into your writing life to hone your skills and leave your comfort zone? Let me know in the comments below!