Dan Brown keeps an hourglass on his desk when he writes and, on the hour, puts aside his manuscript to perform push-ups, sit-ups, and stretches – I think this says a lot about Dan the Da Vinci man.
Blanche D’Alpuget uses a computer, prints out a first draft, takes a deep breath and deletes the original file from the computer, then she makes herself type the whole thing again from the printouts. Personally, I quite like this one – there was a another writer who used to write his first draft and then throw it away and start again, a bit like doing a practice run through. It appeals to me because it’s brave and quite logical.
Forest McDonald apparently writes history on his rural Alabama porch – naked. Leave me out of this one, I don’t have a porch and live on the 15th floor, without a balcony.
Philip Roth works standing up, pacing around as he thinks. He claims to walk half a mile for every page he writes. Well, at least he’s fit.
All joking aside, habits are important to writers.
Some people write at a certain time of day. Some write a set number of words a day. Some need to have their desks laid out just right, others need to hammer a nail into their feet and work through the pain.
Trueman Capote used to write in bed, Hemmingway wrote 500 words a day when he was sober, while James Joyce was happy if he got two or three sentences down. P D James used to get up at 5am and write long hand for an hour before getting on with her busy life. George Simenon set his target to write one chapter a day, no matter what, and if he missed a day through illness he’d throw the novel away.
Writers need some kind of habit. And for us mere mortals, here are some you might want to adopt: Write every day. Pick a time, a target and write every day. If you’re ultra busy with other things in your life, start early or late, but choose a time when you can just concentrate and go with it. Even if you don’t know what to write, make sure you sit down and write something.
Choose the right way to write. I can touch type 50wpm but I still prefer to write first drafts in long hand. I prefer the feel of a pen in my hand I guess – it feels like I’m a writer. The point is, you should use the medium that feels most natural to you.
Visualise your writing day. Visualise yourself putting down those words. Visualise the end result of the finished novel. Visualise the publisher offering you a contract. Visualise and hear the applause as you go up to accept that book award as best newcomer. Good visualisation feeds your ego and gets you excited. Do it often and you’ll begin to believe – it will feed your writing soul and make you believe.
Read and reread the novels you wished you’d written. Pull them to pieces and hold them up to the light and examine why they are so damn great. But don’t stop there, read the bad stuff too and figure out why it’s so damn poor. Develop a critical faculty that will inform your own writing.
The more you write, the better you will become, if: YOU CAN STAND BACK AND LOOK AT YOUR OWN WRITING CRITICALLY. Be gentle with yourself, but be constructive. Take some old stuff you’ve written and look at it in a new light. Don’t be afraid. No one writes the greatest novel ever without first doling out a few failures. The point is, if you want to develop your writing you need to be honest with yourself.
Follow your own path: Every writer is different and you should celebrate that difference. We all follow a different path and come to our writing lives in different ways. Don’t try to be someone else, be you and revel in that unique writers talent.
Don’t sweat the rejections. Okay, you finish a book, send it out to twenty agents and, one by one, they trickle back with that pre-printed rejection. So what? Every writer that has ever lived has had to deal with rejection. It doesn’t mean you’re not any good. It’s just part of the process.
Discover your true writing self. Get a big sheet of paper up onto the wall and map out what sort of writer you want to be. Scribble down all those little habits that make you a writer and start living them. Don’t be afraid. Embrace the writer within – it’s nothing to be embarrassed about and you’re in good company.
Keep a lookout for good story ideas – things that will stretch and evolve your writing talent – either in the street outside, in the newspaper, online. There’s plenty out there you can write about. As Orson Scott Card says: “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them.”
Above all, write, write, write…and then write some more.