Daily Archives: January 4, 2012

What Works For My Writing


This morning, Nova shared a list of things that work for her writing. It was so inspiring that I decided to mull over what works for me–so that I could concretize what it is that works for me…and I could possibly inspire you, in turn.

It took me a long time to figure out what works for my writing. For years I tried to write in bed but eventually I learned that the only things I can do in bed is sleep, watch TV, read, and that-other-thing-I-won’t-type-because-G*d-knows-what-the-search-engines-would-bring-me. I also tried NaNoWriMo, and from NaNoWriMo, I learned that word counts don’t work for me.

Even so, my needs my novel’s needs change from time to time. Sometime my novel needs Bon Iver, other times Jonsí, and other times Tchaikovsky. Sometimes my novel requires tea and other times decaf coffee and other times a hot drink or a cold drink.

But in general, I’ve found that this is what works for me/my novel:

Writing Partners
A large chunk of my writing occurs when I have a writing partner–and by writing partner, I mean a good writer friend with whom I sit down and write. We will sit down at a dining table and write for a few hours in silence. Or at a café. Or even virtually. And I’ll let my writing partner know my writing achievements for the week. When we write drafts, we encourage each other and hold off on critique until requested.

I’ve had two writing partners over the span of my novel, and they’ve made all the difference.

And here’s the thing: for all my love of writing partners, writing groups do NOT work for me. There is nothing that will shut me down so much as three or more of us sitting down together to write. I can’t do it. Even though I often work at The Writers Room where writers sit in quiet, working, it’s just not the same as a writers group.

I can write in silence if there is really silence. As in, a house up in the woods. But if there are people around me, or if floorboards are creaking upstairs, or other writers are whacking tapping loudly away on their keyboards (i.e., every other writing situation), I need music. The music varies (for the last year, I’ve written almost exclusively to Jonsí, and the year previous to that, Sigur Ros, and for months previous to that, Mozart’s Requiem)–but music is pretty much a necessity.

I normally do not like headphones, but this past year, I found a pair of in-ear headphones I really like, and they’ve saved me and my writing in 2011.

Beverage and No Food
Sometimes tea or iced tea or decaf latte or juice…but I’ve gotta have a beverage by me while I write. If marathoners need beverages to run, why wouldn’t a writer need one while revising/writing a novel?

Also, if I eat anything substantial, the magic ends. I can eat as much a KIND bar, but that’s it, just like training for a marathon. So I’ll write until I get lightheaded.

Writing In the Morning and Early Afternoon
For the reason stated above (not being able to write on a full stomach), I mostly write in the morning through the early afternoon. (Kind of a bummer when I was working a fulltime day job).

But I also write in the morning through early afternoon for a reason that I don’t often mention. I was able to return to my novel a couple years after my left-thalamic stroke, but I would lose steam in the afternoons. My brain would just go KAPUT. Halt. Protest. Like, to the point where I wouldn’t know how to add 2+2. Anything important had to happen earlier in the day before my brain would poop out. So I wrote as soon as I woke up, and I still do.

Wearing Something as Close to Pajamas as Possible
I used to have an ugly ugly oversized LLBean plaid robe that I wore while writing. One year, in a moment of weakness, I was convinced to throw it away. (It was really ugly). Dammit.

But in general, I wear pajamas while writing–and because I can’t always write at home, I have to wear something as comfy as pajamas while writing in public. Sometimes I look around in the Writers Room and I see this gorgeous woman wearing what must be very binding skinny jeans and feet-pinching stiletto boots and I wonder, “How can she write?”

Because if I am wearing boots when I get here, I pull them off. I pull my socks off. And I put on a pair of bumble bee slippers I have in my locker just for the purpose of comfort. If I could wear pajama bottoms here I would. But in lieu of that, I’ll wear the comfiest pair of jeans I own, or exercise pants with a nice pajama-esque elastic waistband.

The 7 Train
When I get stuck on my novel, I will take a few hours and ride the 7 Train. For obvious reasons, this is only possible while in NYC. The 7 train’s noises remind me of my early childhood spent riding the 7, and in turn, I think it hypnotizes me and connects me to my subconscious. And it makes me happy.

Allowing Myself to Write Badly
I’m a perfectionist. I don’t like to admit I am, and I spend a lot of my conscious energy telling myself, “There is more than one right way,” when I see someone doing something in a way I’ve never seen. There are good things about being a perfectionist–I’m an idealist who always wants to make things better.

But when it comes to drafting a novel and then revising a novel, perfection doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. Each step is incremental and imperfect. I’ve got to get the words on the page before they can be made perfect. Once, I even made a sign that says, “Allow yourself to write badly,” and put it up at my writing desk.

It helped me get over a writing slump.

Blogging for Voice and for Clearing My Head
When I took piano lessons as a child, my teacher made me do Hanon exercises. These were variation on scales, with the purpose of warming my fingers up. Blogging is the same thing for me, especially if I’ve come back from vacation and I’m having a tough time finding my way back to my novel.

Blogging helps me find my voice, and refine my writing voice, and it helps me clear my head, and it helps me warm up my writing muscles.

But if my writing is going well, I blog less.

However, my piano teacher always made me do the Hanon exercises.

Journaling for Therapeutic Writing
I know that I bring a lot of my personal experience to the page–but I don’t need recent, undigested personal experience brought to the page (or blog). For that, I barf into my Moleskine journal.

I have really messy handwriting. Good luck reading what I barf into my Moleskine.


And then there’s the flip side–things that don’t work for my writing. There are SO many things that don’t work for my writing, but I’ve decided to share just a few with you here.

Word Counts
I start doing word counts, and I can literally hear the screeeech of brakes.

Heat/hot weather
Ah summer, you slay me.

My husband anywhere near me while I write
He is the biggest distraction. And when I’m at a tough point in my writing–believe me, I’d rather hang out with him than face the pain.

Writing in anything but an empty house
I wish I could write at home, even when people are milling about, but I can’t. My novel is selfish. It wants the entire house to itself.

Also, I’m convinced that the Muse is shy and won’t visit me unless I’m by myself.

Writing anywhere but at a desk/table
I have to be in a chair with a writing surface. Facing away from a window. With no direct sunlight (foggy or cloudy days are fine near a window).



Filed under Helpful, Writing