So many writers, so many methods. Find out which work best for you.
So many (aspiring) writers, so many different methods, like Stephen King describes in his stories featuring writers (such as The Dark Half and Bag of Bones).
“It could be a work of fiction, or history, or both — a long book exploding out of this central place in a hundred directions.”
― Stephen King, The Shining
My husband and I are both writers.
There is much debate about when one gets to call oneself a writer: should one be published or is the ambition and frequent writing enough to be deemed a True Writer? Both my Writing-on-Medium-Heroes, August Birch and Shaunta Grimes, whose contributions I read daily, have some strong opinions about what it takes to be a writer, that — of course — are right up my alley.
For us, there is no longer any doubt: we are writers. We live the craft and, perhaps even more importantly, we think about it 24/7. We observe life around us, society and everything about it, constantly forming opinions and ideas for stories, blogs or books. We brainstorm, bounce ideas off of each other and motivate each other (both of us firmly believing the other is just so damn talented). We allow ourselves to be moved, amazed and inspired by films and series we watch, convinced we are able to write similar or even better stories and daydreaming about what would happen if…
We create our own rhythm, our own daily rituals instead of walking into pace with the 9-to-5 society that never really suited our personalities anyway. We set our own conditions, make up our own rules as we go along.
And yes, we are published. We’re not famous, perhaps not even successful (depending on the yardstick used to measure something as subjective as ‘success’) but we are writers.
A routine of your own
When you start out writing, you may be tempted to follow the advice of established writers to the letter. But — and I cannot stress this enough — it is important that you create your own routine, define your own set of perfect writing conditions. This is something I believe cannot be learned from a book or a blog. You’ll have to experience what suits you best. When you still have a day job, you will probably be used to regular work hours. For some, this will feel most comfortable, while others only seek to escape this structure. Speaking from experience (as always) I have to admit that though I have been rebelling against those set working hours for most of my career, there is something comfortable about knowing when to start working and when your ‘own time’ begins. Though it does not work for me, I will always recommend making appointments with yourself; actually allotting as much writing time you can. You will find that ‘stolen moments’ in between your regular work, will not work if you are serious about writing. It is important to afford yourself enough time to be able to get into a flow — when you will write your best stuff.
“Stark lit a Pall Mall himself, picked up one of his Berols, opened his own notebook . . . and then paused. He looked at Thad with naked honesty. “I’m scared, hoss,” he said. And Thad felt a great wave of sympathy for Stark — in spite of everything he knew. Scared. Yes, of course you are, he thought. Only the ones just starting out — the kids — aren’t scared. The years go by and the words on the page don’t get any darker . . . but the white space sure does get whiter. Scared? You’d be crazier than you are if you weren’t. “I know,” he said. “And you know what it comes down to — the only way to do it is to do it.”
― Stephen King, The Dark Half
It’s interesting to observe both the similarities and the differences in writing methods. Where Husband does most of his writing in his head (much to my frustration, as I would love to see all those beautifully complex thoughts of his on paper) I entrust my thoughts to my BlackBerry smartphone, my faithful companion with its QWERTY keyboard, enabling me to type very fast using just my thumbs. Though I tried (using an Android operated tablet), I simply cannot write as fast on a virtual keyboard — I find it way too sensitive (yes, I know I can adjust this, but I still don’t care for it) and I make way more typos, which is distracting to me. The app I am using allows me to export my texts to the cloud, from where I can collect them later on my PC, edit them, rewrite them, edit them, edit them some more and — finally — hit publish (sigh).
Husband is still looking for his ideal writing method. He is eagerly anticipating technology that would make it possible to write by recording his thoughts. In the meantime, he writes on his tablet (using two fingers to tap very quickly on that Android virtual keyboard), on an A3 sketch pad using a pencil, or on a tiny notepad, just because it was there.
Above all, he values ‘natural conversation’ above any other method. Just to be able to speak his mind, hearing his own thoughts out loud — if these would then magically appear in writing, that would be perfect. As it is, we could use a recording device, but have found this takes away from the spontaneity of the conversation. Trained as a secretary, I suppose I could still take shorthand or dictation on my laptop. But that would turn an otherwise engaging conversation into actual work. Sometimes, I do take notes of his particularly pointy comments, jokes or ideas. The fastest way for me is to type them into a note taking app on my BlackBerry. I can recall these notes later, laugh about them all over again with my Husband, and we actually use them in our writing later.
Our surroundings matter very much to us. Though we crave a peaceful home, circumstances do not yet make this possible. My mother’s house, that we currently live in, is situated in a busy expat neighbourhood (very different from the neighbourhood I grew up in) in a street with a school/daycare in it. In the back, our very garden is adjacent to the yard of yet another school. In The Netherlands, everything is pretty much built on top of each other, every inch of space used as ‘efficiently’ as possible. Having to live and work in such close quarters does something to people, as we found out — the hard way.
But that’s a different story.
Your ideal writing environment
It is essential we create our own ideal environment for our writing work. Husband has discovered he is able to drown out the ruckus of the schools in our near vicinity by putting on an action movie on Netflix. In what I consider the sound of a war zone, he is somehow able to focus on his writing.
These days, I have the luxury of my own office on the ground floor, looking out into the street. Though there is much distraction, I feel safe in my own little environment, furnished and decorated to my own liking. Netflix is too distracting for me, but I do enjoy radio. I like the combination of music and the spoken word. If there is too much of either to my taste, I will select a playlist on Spotify or Deezer (yes, music is very important to me). If I find I cannot focus, there is always my secret weapon: an app on my BlackBerry that produces ambient sounds and lets you create your own playlist (birds and forest sounds work best for me, though sometimes office or coffee house sounds help me focus better). Though I appreciate being left on my own devices, my office door is always open, inviting our dog to come have a nap on her very own office bed. Her peaceful snoring is more relaxing than any playlist.
“I was still too nervous about my rediscovered ability to want to change anything about the environment in which I was doing it. Stupid, maybe, but sometimes things work just because you think they work. It’s as good a definition of faith as any.”
― Stephen King, Bag of Bones
If you don’t have the luxury of a space that is exclusively your own, you could try looking for a shared office, a coffee or tea house or one of those flexible workplaces that cater to freelancers and (small) business owners. You will have to shop around and try out a few to find that perfect workspace for you (that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, either). Remember, you’re the Boss. Your workspace should meet your own, personal requirements to enable you to write. Don’t let anybody else tell you what you should want — this is about you.
If, like us, you truly wish to be a writer, I believe you should become intimately familiar with your own habits, routines and idiosyncrasies. Even when you believe you know yourself, you may still surprise yourself. You may for instance always have been convinced you are a morning person, but when you seriously think about it, you may find you are not.
Take stock of what you need to work as productively as you can and try to implement these conditions into your current life. It is not enough to say “One day, I will be a writer”. If you wish to be a writer, there are some changes to be made NOW — whether you have a day job or struggle to make ends meet.
If you truly want to be a writer, ask yourself:
- How much time do I need for writing (every day)?
- What is my most productive time of day?
- What do I need to get (and stay) into a writing flow?
Make a list and then: make it so!
Do what you can to keep your eyes on the prize, stay inspired and above all: write! As much as you can, whenever, wherever you can.
This post was originally published on Medium in my publication Hearts in the Write Place on September 11, 2019.