Showing posts with label writing habit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing habit. Show all posts

Monday, April 22

Walter Benjamin's Advice To Writers

Walter Benjamin's Advice To Writers

Brain Pickings is one of my favorite blogs.

Not all the articles are about writing--though many are--but all the posts are valuable, often surprising, and always interesting.

Take, for instance, Maria Popova's lovely piece, Advice on Writing.

First, one's eye falls on a miscellany of advice. The quotation that caught my eye was from Stephen King, "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open."

In other words, write the first draft for yourself, write the second with the knowledge it will be read by strangers, some of your friends and, possibly, your mother.

Maria also tells us that in 1928 essayist Walter Benjamin gave writers the following advice:

(The following are loose paraphrases. Very loose.)

2. Don't read what you've just written.

If you reread what you've written it is inevitable you'll hate it and want to rewrite it, to fiddle with it, pushing words around on paper, changing them. The only result will be that all impulsiveness, all life, will bleed out, leaving it with the uniqueness and interest of a cardboard box. 

Be bold. Be different.

Have a reason for every change, not just a vague feeling.

3. Seek out the right writing environment for you.

Sound matters. Some of us need complete silence, others prefer a babble of noise like what we get writing in our favorite coffee shop.

Others must have music. The rhythm of it can help us inhabit a scene--driving music for tense action, calmer, moodier songs for sequels, scenes where our characters pause and reflect on what they are doing and why they are doing it.

And many of us aren't any one way but prefer to flit between musical identities, between writing environments, preferring complete quiet one day while the next we curl up in a coffee shop and let the soft babbling murmur of our fellow patrons wash over us like an ocean swell.

4. The magic of habit.

If you write

a) in the same place using
b) the same materials (laptop or pen and paper, whatever you're used to)
c) at the same time

it will be that much easier to do it again and that much harder not to do it.

By doing the same things over and over you'll form a habit. Writing habits are wonderful things!

5. Write your ideas down.

If you have an idea for a story, a scene, a character, write it down.

If you hear a word you'd like to use, write it down.

If you see a dessert in the window one of your characters would love (or hate), take a picture. (Pinterest can be a great way of keeping track of research photos.) (see: Using Pinterest To Help Build Your Fictional Worlds)

If you hear a song one of your characters would love (or hate) record a snippet of it so you can find out, later, which song it is and put it with your other research. (see: How To Create And Maintain The Habit Of Writing)

7. Before you sit down to write decide how long you'll write for. 

Write to the end of the appointed time. If no idea comes to you, work on describing the items you have at hand: your keyboard, your mouse. Your cat.

Or do a writing exercise.

Don't stop writing before the appointed time.

Walter Benjamin's advice appeared in an essay entitled "Post No Bills" and was part of the book One-Way Street. The essays in this book have since been re-published in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings

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What advice would you give to new writers?

Other articles you might like:

- How To Create A Villain Your Readers Will Love To Hate
- Joe Konrath Is Having A 99 Cent Sale
- Dean Wesley Smith Writes A Novel In 10 Days

Photo link: "White landscape" by lrargerich under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, April 7

How To Create And Maintain The Habit Of Writing

How To Create And Maintain The Habit Of Writing

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

Beth Hayden, in How to Create Consistently Great Content for the Long Haul, calls Twyla Tharp's new book, The Creative Habit, "a powerful weapon you can use in your quest for better creative output." She writes:
Think of it [The Creative Habit] as an industrial-strength antidote to resistance, creative blocks, and stale ideas.
What is this 'amazing secret weapon'? One word: Habits.

But not just any habits. We don't want bad habits like sleeping in till 10:30 am on Sunday and then waking woozy and bleary eyed to a complete and total absence of coffee.

But I digress. Here is a summary of Ms. Tharp's system for forming productive habits for peak creativity.

1. Be organized: The cardboard box method

Beth Hayden quotes Ms. Tharp:
I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.
The beauty of this system is that if "she needs to put a project on hold, she can always come back to the box and pick it up again."

That said, it doesn't have the be a physical box.

Beth uses "a combination of Word documents, Delicious bookmarks, and file folders" to keep her ideas organized.

Use whatever works for you.

Myself, I love the idea of using physical containers, cardboard boxes, to organized my ideas--I could put my electronic files on a cheap thumb drive and put it in the box along with all my scribbled notes/notebooks, magazine and newspaper clippings, and so on.

The main disadvantage is an abysmal lack of space. Though my apartment feels expansive, 500 square feet won't accommodate many (additional) boxes, not when I already have so many holding the artifacts of my life.

2. Scratch out new ideas

Ms. Tharp writes:

"... I have a habitual routine to keep me going. I call it scratching. ... I'm digging through everything to find something. It's like clawing at the side of a mountain to get a toehold, a grip, some sort of traction to keep moving upward and onward."

Here's how Beth Hayden suggests we search for our next great idea:

a. Free write

Set a timer for 20 minutes and write. Use pen and paper on a word processor, whatever you feel most comfortable with. The only rule is that you don't stop writing.

If you're doing this on the computer then you could use a program like Write or Die.

b. Read

Read every day. Read fiction and non-fiction, read about everything not just the sorts of things you write.

c. Soak in art

Don't just read, "Visit an art museum, go to a dance performance, or attend a musical. Get inspired by watching the creative efforts of a fellow artist."

d. Be creative in a different way

I find that often, if I'm blocked, or am seeking inspiration, it helps to draw, paint, bind books, and so on, to engage in some other creative activity.

e. Enjoy nature

Go on a hike, walk a dog, go skiing, swimming or biking. Or "just go out and sit in the grass for ten minutes and watch the clouds."

3. Do regular creative workouts: study the craft

Just as we need to stay in good physical shape so we need to stay in top creative shape.

For writers this means studying the art and craft of writing. Specifically:

a. Read

Read critically and no just for recreation.

Read articles about writing techniques and best practises. I think it's important to read articles from a multitude of different perspectives.

b. Write

Write every day, even if, like me, you're a fast-drafter and spend most of your time editing.

Write a short blog article, or write in your journal for 10 minutes.

Or do a warm-up writing exercise to start the day.

The goal is to build a habit and I think the most deeply ingrained habits are those we do every day.
As you become a better writer, you’ll not only get better ideas, you’ll be able to execute better when you do get inspired. It’s like being in shape as a dancer — if you take classes every day and keep your body in great shape, you have virtually no limits on what you can do physically. You will be able to handle the best choreography in the world, which makes you a great artist.
Beth Hayden closes her article with a question which I will echo: What are your creative habits? Please share! :-)

Thanks to The Land of Deborah for sending me the link to Beth Hayden's wonderful article! All quotations are from Beth Hayden's article, unless otherwise indicated.

Other articles you might like:

- How To Not Write Crap
- Writing Scenes: Getting Up Close And Personal; Using Sensory Language
- The Strange: How To Hook A Reader's Interest

Photo credit: "and in that moment I missed you more than I had thought it ever possible to miss anyone ever..." by slightly everything under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.