The Habit of Writing: More Than Carefully Arranging Words

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I don’t write new work every day, but I’m constantly at work on my writing, no matter what type of writing it is–and it’s mostly revision. An essential feature of my approach to writing is mental work and engagement.  What I want to touch on today has to do with the routine or habit of writing, and in particular, writing fiction.

The Routine

Every writer eventually discovers a routine that works best for her, and people are fascinated with the writing habits of authors, as though these habits, if imitated, offer paths to achievement. The only routine a writer needs is the one that works for a writer.  The romance of the writing life is a picturesque falsehood. If what you’re doing isn’t working, then change it.

 

When I wished to concentrate my writing on fiction, I found that it was much more difficult than merely sitting down everyday at a particular time and writing. I was not making time to write, or when I did, it was unproductive, and what I mean is that when I wrote, when I had the opportunity to devote significant time to the endeavor, the results did not meet my expectations. It is easier to appreciate literature and consume it by the acre than to create it. Before I could write well, I needed to lean more about the craft of writing fiction, and my habit of writing has become much more than the act of carefully arranging words.

Reading

Stephen King tells us in On Writing that “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Writers can learn a great deal about story and dramatic structure from watching television and film. Nevertheless, there exist writers who claim they do not read. But, from my experience as a writing consultant, professor, technical writer and editor, I’ve noticed that people who don’t read struggle with comprehending and reproducing the elements of story that create compelling, (meaningful and unique—my preference for these additional qualifiers raises the bar somewhat) narratives.  And, then there’s incredulousness.  I cannot comprehend the writer who does not care for reading. I’m calling bullshit on these writers.  Reading about the craft of writing and reading fiction in its many manifestations, including graphic novels, improves your skill and refines your finesse. Part of any writer’s habitual occupation should be to read: books, blogs, articles, literary journals, graphic novels, flash fiction, poetry, non-fiction, scientific journals, social media, film and television scripts, cereal boxes. You will not be able but to regard the world as text and read it. The downside, not so many surprises anymore.

Writing in community

Writers can only write in isolation for so long, and I think, should avoid it. Writers need readers, not an audience, especially critical readers. Whoever is willing to fulfill that role is a star. But, writers flourish among other writers and need some community. Cormac McCarthy has exchanged letters with other writers, and Thomas Pynchon communicates with others. It may not be you, but he talks to someone. Writers have many opportunities to meet other writers. Local bookstores, libraries, coffee houses and even houses of worship host writing groups. Writers can attend conferences and workshops in the actual world or online. There are online communities, like WanaTribe.  The ultimate experience in writing community is the MFA program.

Revision

Revision is vital part of writing. I mentioned that an essential feature my own writing process is mental. While that process or background engagement is not revision, it is a similar process unlike the creative one that is all flow. A writer uses her technical expertise in what is both a delicate and brutal task—over and over. “Murder your little darlings” Arthur Quiller-Couch advises. I agree. Plan on it. Revision is nearly a blood bath. It’s a killing floor filled with words, images, ideas, agonizing choices, mistakes and hope. But it is not a spree. It is efficient, objective, and ruthless.” I am more interested in writers’ advice on revision than how many hours a day they write.

The Professionalization of Writing

Few writers write only for the joy of writing fiction. Most of us plan some income from the effort. Branding and name recognition has become an urgent issue among published authors and emerging ones, especially with the opportunities that exist in independent digital publishing and diminishing contracts among traditional publishing houses in proportion to the increased number of writers seeking publication.  But, more people are buying more books, physical and digital, than ever before. Writers, publishing houses, literary agents, editors, literary journals, graphic artists, and all imaginable support services utilize blogs and social media to create platforms for promotion and cross-pollinate to create stronger professional networks

So, I don’t end up writing every day—yet, for others, it’s an anchor for their sanity, or a simply, the way they practice their craft and get it done, and I honor that practice.  I’m thinking about it, working out plots and developing character arcs in my head, reading books, short stories, books on crafts, various articles, internet sites, and blog posts; writing out character profiles, plot lines, jotting down notes on my phone; planning out blog posts, updating and interacting with other writers and friends on social media sites; researching literary journals, creating a submission calendar and updating submissions; researching data for my novel; attending workshops and book events; –and, of course, writing and revising.  This is what most writers contend with these days, on top of a day job, along with a family. However you are doing it, Good Luck!

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2 thoughts on “The Habit of Writing: More Than Carefully Arranging Words

  1. I’m with you on writers who don’t read –there’s a reason that most successful writers read voraciously. If they don’t read, I don’t really want to read what they’re writing.

    Having community is also such an important part of the process. The great thing about the writing community is that it’s pretty accessible to people who are enthusiastic about reading and writing, no matter their skill level. Great post!

    Like

  2. This IS a great post! Your tips and insights will help my blog and general writing overall. In addition to cereal boxes, I have this peculiar habit of reading personal care labels. You can learn so much about ingredients and what not to buy from labels. Thanks for this post. I’m enjoying your blog. 🙂

    Like

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