I am in West Philadelphia, sitting in a cafe sipping a concoction of espresso flavored milk and munching on a croissant (in my head I can’t help but say it with an exaggerated French accent). I have a laptop studded with NaNoWriMo stickers. My desktop image is one of a super-moon over a silhouetted Pennsylvania lake house. I have a journal my sister gave me, a soft suede with a worn leather lanyard, and the Sharpie pen resting on an open page.
My characters have names, goals, and lives played out beyond the pages – hell, I know what tarot spread the chain-smoking Roma-Wanna-Be read them at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Carnival, to the tinny tune of the Tilta-Whirl. My scenes have motion. I know what way the gun faces on the mantle and why it will be used to send my antagonist’s world in a tailspin behind that very same carnie ride.
My fingers hover over the keyboard. After a few moments, my face bathed in laptop light, my ears assaulted by the faint sound of yet another girl with a guitar, I close the lid and pick up my pen. I resist the urge to doodle. Pen to paper, I seem to be testing Sharpie’s testimony that they never bleed.
I happen to be good at fighting inner demons telling me I suck, or questioning how many times I can give myself a fresh start before I throw in the towel and get a 9-5. However, those demons start fighting imaginary cowboys or interstellar cyborg ninjas and next thing I know an hour has passed with nothing to show but a dot on a page.
What does daily writing look like?
From countless books, articles, and seminars on writing success I feel I can offer you some advice. This is all stuff you will hear when you listen to authors like the late Mr. Bradbury, Anne Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, and Stephen King, and parrotted endlessly in Writer’s Digest and similar periodicals:
- Keep a journal with you at all times
- Journal in the morning
- Journal in public
Set yourself up for success:
- Get your friends, family, and co-workers on board with your writing goals
- Get a writing buddy with similar goals as yourself and revel in their success
- Prioritize your writing before you do it – schedule it, etc. (I suggest two hours a day)
- Decide on what project you will work on days before so that choice doesn’t disrupt your writing
The real craft is in the rewrite:
- Many authors write a little and revise a little every day
- Put your first drafts away (I suggest a minimum of a month) before revising them
- Just prior to revisions, read your work aloud
And, of course, you can’t be a good writer without a constant and consistent practice of reading. Sneak in reading however you can (pointedly read the kind of work you want to write).
One Word After the Other
Step One: Live
I believe our best writing comes from our subconscious. The more we’re exposed to the better we will be at expressing our written world. When I decide to write something I ask “what do I know?” I’ve immersed myself in Westerns in all mediums. I am a student of religion and philosophy. My academic and community work is steeped in the history of race in this country. Those are the things I write about. Everywhere I go I visit a Civil War battlefield. When I wrote about Lake Pontchartrain or contemplated St. Louis Cathedral from Congo Square, its based on my experiences being there. Can you write about things beyond your ken? Certainly, but you need to have the scaffolding to pull it off or its never going to resonate with an audience.
Step Two: Pay Attention to how much you write
This will keep you honest and allow you to best compete with yourself. It will help you meet deadlines and create deadlines to drive you toward your goals.
(to be consistent with my revision process I prefer to think in terms of pages; assume 250-300 words per page)
- Figure out how much raw writing you produce in an hour
- Decide how much time you have allotted to writing daily
- There is your daily word or page count
- Keep track of how many words or pages you write each day, be it in your journal or an excel sheet
- Once a week do a little planning ahead – how is a character getting to their goals and what’s in their way (I try and plan about 40 pages at a time; roughly each 10 pages is a scene)?
- Fire your inner editor and just type. Let an idea fuel you and have fun with the process. Your subconscious will do the rest.
And when you dip below your daily quota, consider the why’s – are you not feeling well? Did you stop to fix every comma as you went? Did you let TV or texting distract you? Forewarned is forearmed, right? Knowing what your writing habits are allows you to maximize the precious time you’ve allotted to your craft.
If you get stuck, still write. It’s sounds trite but just write about how you can’t write. Write about how your characters are all jerks trying to fight you for a decent story at every turn. That story will come. All the nitty gritty details will be managed in your first rewrite. Make the details be up to your future self. Your revision process will make you a better writer as well.
But revisions are a topic for another day.