1. Create a Writing Space
‘Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself.’
– Terry Pratchett, Writer: Going Postal.
It’s important that you have a specific place where you can go to write, somewhere you aren’t prone to distraction. Much like climbing in to bed triggers a Pavlovian sleep response, spending time in your writing space will help you to feel creative and productive. It also becomes easier to balance your writing with the rest of your life when you can step away and take a break, mentally leaving your writing somewhere instead of carrying it with you and risking a burn out caused by fatigue.
So try experimenting with different locations until you find a place that lets you feel focused and comfortable writing. If you prefer quiet solitude and your own office isn’t an option (and it rarely is), try setting up a desk in the quietest corner of your home and surround yourself with your favourite books. You may find you work best outside – sitting in the garden, or nearest park. Or maybe you prefer crowds and public spaces and would be most constructive at the local library, or scribbling amid crowds of people on the tube.
J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh cafe. D.H. Lawrence wrote outside, beneath the shade of a tree. Roald Dahl spent his mornings writing in a shed at the bottom of his garden. Find what works best for you and develop your space.
2. Use Creative Techniques
‘He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher… or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.’
– Douglas Adams, Writer: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
At this point you probably already have an idea in mind that you can’t wait to dive in to and start writing about. It could be an evil moustache-twiddling villain, or an intricate space opera, or even something as simple as a postcard picture. Or maybe you have no idea where to start. Whatever you have in mind, and whichever stage you are at, it’s always helpful to have a few creative techniques for generating and expanding ideas. I’ll outline a few useful techniques I use below.
Clustering is a technique that allows you to explore a near-limitless flow of connected ideas and images without needing to commit. This method is helpful since it allows you to begin with a blank page and no previous ideas.
To create a cluster, first you think of a word or phrase on the subject you wish to write about. Write this nucleus word or phrase in the centre of the page and circle it. Next, write any words or phrases that you connect to the nucleus word or phrase, circling them and attaching them back to the nucleus with a line. Continue this process, as rapidly as possible, letting the words branch out and the connections flow as you write down each new word or phrase that comes to mind. When you exhaust a branch, return to another and try to keep going.
Do not censor yourself as you perform this exercise – give yourself the freedom to write whatever comes to mind. The end result may be personal and indecipherable to anyone but you which is perfectly fine. After a few minutes you will have filled an entire page and you can probably find one or two ideas that stand out to you. Now you have some ideas, you can develop them as you wish. I recommend a freewrite which I will explain below.
Freewriting is a simple, creative exercise that can stimulate ideas and directions for your writing which you wouldn’t usually think of. It is also great for simply putting pen to paper and putting you in the right frame of mind to write, especially on those days when you just don’t know how to start.
How do you freewrite then? It’s simple – write down the first thing that occurs to you, then you follow that train of thought to wherever it goes. You just let the words tumble out. Write nonsense, write anything, just keep writing non-stop with no regards for spelling, corrections or logic. Don’t suppress yourself or try to control it, just let it all flow out on to the paper.
The beauty of this exercise is that it can be done anywhere, for any length of time and with any starting point. Without stopping to evaluate or filter what you write, you will find that many of your deepest ideas and feelings can show up. Once you’re finished, look back over what you’ve written and see if anything catches your interest. While most of it will be gibberish, you’ll often find interesting ideas that you can develop further in to substantial pieces of writing.
Less of a creative exercise, the Snowflake Method is a practical technique for structuring the writing of your story. It outlines a simple, logical method for writing a story that builds out from a single sentence. It is something I’ve found helpful in my own writing so I thought I would give it a quick mention.
3. Write Badly
‘You’ve got to write badly. If you write badly at least you’ve got something to rewrite. If you’re scared to write badly, then you’ve got nothing.’
– Tony Grisoni, Writer: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Simple and effective point here – learn how to write badly. If you try for perfection from the outset then your writing and creativity will die before it even hits the paper. Writing is a process and the finished product almost never ends up how you imagined at the start. Nobody writes a perfect story on their first attempt – it requires an imperfect, chaotic first draft followed by a series of gradually improved revisions.
The secret to good writing is editing. A phrase that has been repeated countless times, but it’s impossible to deny or get away from. If you want to write something worthwhile, then you’ll need to edit it and rewrite it and then edit it some more. So don’t be afraid to put down your ideas just because they don’t make sense yet.
Once you’ve given yourself permission to write badly, and you accept that the perfectionist in you is just a hindrance at this point, then you’ll find that the blank page isn’t as daunting as you once thought. Soon you’ll be rattling off pages of terrible prose, and you’ll love the feeling of achievement and progression.
4. Develop the Habit
‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’
Ernest Hemingway, Writer: The Old Man and the Sea.
Remember not to be too hard on yourself – writing is a process. People don’t sit at a piano and instantly know how to play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Keep developing the habit – write every day. Even if you can only snatch half an hour, it’s the consistency that counts. Don’t wait around for inspiration to strike or you’ll never write anything. Keep writing and you’ll start to see inspiration show up in unexpected places everywhere – interesting phrases in conversation, people that catch your eye on the street, and worlds that come to you in dreams.
© 2015, Gavin Zanker. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.