By Daniel Ford
I know some sun and surf left over from the Fourth of July weekend might be clinging to your Monday work outfit, but it’s time to get back to work.
The muse rests for no writer.
I came up with five tips that you can use to improve your writing during the second half of 2014. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.
Don’t Be Afraid To Be Alone
Being alone sucks doesn’t it? Consider these quotes from writers about loneliness:
“Writing is a lonely job. Even if a writer socializes regularly, when he gets down to the real business of his life, it is he and his type writer or word processor. No one else is or can be involved in the matter.”—Isaac Asimov
“The writing profession is reeking with this loneliness. All our lives we spend in discoursing with ourselves…The loneliest people in the world we writers are. Except that, while we are conversing and laughing with ourselves, we manage to shed our loneliness…to scatter it as we go along.”—H. L. Mencken
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”—Ernest Hemingway
Gah. Who would choose such a life?
Well, you did. I did. All writers have.
There’s nothing wrong with being alone. I’m a social writer—one who needs constant stimulation from music, conversation, or noise to get my thoughts down on paper. However, there comes a point where I need to tune all of that out to get down to the actual business of writing. It’s not an easy place to get to because the loneliness of it is so crushing.
But goddamn, it’s worth it.
There’s no need to be afraid of it. You know what happens after you’re alone? You’re not. You’ve got a finished product that you can ask someone about. And you become one with the world again.
I’m adopting a method of writing I learned from author Jeff Shaara during our podcast interview. It's the “Butt in Chair” method, which complements “don’t be afraid to be alone” nicely.
Get in the chair! Duct tape your can to the seat if you need to!
The best part is you can put your chair anywhere. The beach, a cabin in the woods, a park, a roof deck overlooking the city, a five-star hotel, or any other place your muse likes to frequent. There’s no reason to be uncomfortable while you’re lighting your mind on fire.
Longhand Is Your Friend
Writers come up with a ton of excuses not to write. It’s so easy not to write you don’t have your butt in a chair or you don’t have your perfect alone time.
“I’m not near my computer” is something I hear often. Who cares? God invented paper and it’s worked well for pretty much every writer before this generation of computer addicts. Carry around a notebook for when the muse strikes you when you least expect it. You can write notes or write a full story in longhand. Having to type it out later will only strengthen your prose.
Plus, that blinking cursor on the screen can be a bitch. It’s almost like having someone scream at you while you’re writing. If Hemingway had to use a computer, he would have blown his brains out a lot sooner than he did. It’s actually cliché now to say, “I stared at the computer screen looking at the flashing cursor willing myself to write something.”
Longhand writing requires more thought and effort, which is never a bad thing when you’re writing. You want all of your senses and mechanics involved. Besides, you’ll have beautiful pages to fondly look back on when you’re strangling pigeons in a Parisian park à la Hemingway.
Read Your Own Material
You’d be surprised how many writers don’t like editing their own stuff.
I am not one of them. I like to re-read and have others read my material. Your work needs to see a little bit of the world after you’ve been alone with it, labored over it, and churned it over in your mind again and again.
Don’t be worried that it might be crap. It likely is. But that’s okay too. Louis CK said in an interview once that you learn a hell of a lot more from failure than you do from success. He’s right. You find out what kind of writer you are when you overcome bad material. You figure out how to shape your dialogue better, which characters you should stick with, and what settings work better than others. You can’t discover any of that by putting your Word doc in your computer’s trash bin or stuffing your pages under a pillow.
Read, despair, learn, re-write. Repeat.
Writing doesn’t have to be drudgery. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Rebecca Cantrell, one of our earliest interviews and one of our biggest supporters, said it best:
“If writing isn’t fun, why do it? I have lots of fun writing and so do most other writers I know. It doesn’t have to be about suffering.”
Being creative is a gift. Don’t waste it being miserable.
Go write. Always.
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