Thursday, November 29, 2012

5 Pieces of Advice That Changed the Way I Write

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Long ago, when I first read the statement above, I imagined an encounter with a big-bellied, toga-wearing monk who would whisper the secrets of the universe into my ear.

Over the years I've learned you don’t necessarily need a monk to show you the way. If you’re open to it, wisdom comes in many guises, such as advice from a friend, a passage in a book, an overheard conversation or even a sudden insight.

What follows are the valuable writing gifts I have received over the years. Depending on where you are in this journey, they may or may not resonate with you, but each one was precious to me and changed my way of thinking about my craft.

Morning Pages

Since I was a little girl I always dreamed of being a writer but it wasn't until I started doing daily morning pages that I gained the courage to face the blank page.  And what are morning pages?

Simply, first thing when you wake up in the morning, you write longhand in a notebook for twenty minutes without stopping. It’s best if you practice morning pages for two or three months and you shouldn't read what you've written until much later.  The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron popularized morning pages but they've been around for decades.

Morning pages train your subconscious to write. It coaxes out the muse, and, trust me, the practice is utterly magical. Morning pages work best with new writers or writers who have abandoned the craft for a while.

Save the Cat!

Storytelling is a skill separate from writing beautiful sentences and Blake Snyder, author of “Save the Cat Strikes Back!” explains plotting in the most eloquent and accessible way possible.

After reading his book, I knew I would never again plot myself into a corner or abandon a project because of structural problems.  Although his work is written in a breezy style, there’s something very elemental and old-world about Snyder’s approach.

He died a couple of years ago, and even though he was a successful screenwriter, I think his insightful how-to books were his true legacy. I recommend all of his books but if you were only to buy one, I’d get “Save the Cat Strikes Back.” In addition to giving structural advice, he shares the very personal story of how he changed his writing life around. An inspiring man who will be missed.

Pomodoro Technique

Former Girlfriend April Henry turned me on to this incredible yet simple technique. Basically you write for twenty-five minutes, no interruptions, and then take a five minute break.

Repeat as many times as necessary. This method has increased my focus ten-fold. I no longer worry about being distracted by the Internet or e-mail, because during each twenty-five minute period, you trick the brain to attend only to the writing. Here’s more about the Pomodoro technique if I’ve piqued your interest.

Rachel Aaron’s Amazing Productivity Method

Recently I decided I wanted to write first drafts faster, and I ran across author Rachel Aaron's advice on that very topic. Using her method, I easily upped my daily word count from 2,000 words a day to 3,000. (Accomplished in a four-hour time period with brief breaks) The secret?

Aaron suggests writing a brief summary of what you’re going to write each day before plunging in.  Her advice should be worth a $1,000 it helped me so much. But I only spent $.99 on her book. Thank you, Rachel Aaron! XOXO

A recent insight about the writing game

Once during one of the best performances of his life, Laurence Olivier came off the stage and was approached by a reporter who was bowled over by his mastery. Olivier acknowledged he’d done well, but he also said, “I don’t know if I can ever repeat it, because it did not come from me.”

The more I write, the more I understand that the best writing is achieved when I leave my ego outside the writing room, and surrender to my unconscious mind.

If I show up every day, the muse will arrive, and if I’m humble and understand that I’m only a conduit or co-creator at best, then good writing will almost always result. When I’m co-creating, the supply of ideas are endless, and I never get stale. Maybe this gift was the most important one of all.

So those are the best gifts I've received in over twenty years of writing, and I hope at least one will speak to you. And since it’s the gift-giving season, I would love to hear the valuable insights you have received during your writing life. I’m always looking to add a few more to my treasure chest.

1 comment:

  1. Karin - as ever, your posts are so timely! Seven years after selling my first novel I have FINALLY figured out that I work best when I'm at the library (and away from the fridge). It's so strange but when I'm at home I allow myself to become distracted by everything but when I'm at the library my inner-obedient-child comes out and I work my butt off.

    I'm still staggered that this simple concept has passed me by for so long, but at least I know it now!!!!! And thanks for linking to Rachel's book. I've just bought it (and I love Julie Cameron and Blake - both have helped me a lot over the years!)