Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Cabin in the Woods: One Writer's Secrets

I never understood in the movies how authors would lock themselves away in a cabin in the woods and pound out a novel in a matter of days.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the need for solitude.  I long for an escape to a serene location to stir up some inspiration, but my process isn't that linear.  Partly because I can't find those big chunks of time and partly because I don't think my brain works that way.

I often struggle (when I do have some quiet time) to just sit and plug away at my writing.  My process takes twists and turns.  Rarely do I find myself focused in for a long period of time on one topic, chapter, or idea.  I wish I had that in me, the ability to just lock myself in a room and crank out page after page, but I don't.

Over the last year, I've been reflecting more about myself as a writer.  I love the idea of a writer's retreat.  Who doesn't need time at a chalet in the mountains or a lakeside getaway, right?  But since I don't often have that luxury, I have to find my own strategies to persevere as a writer.

Here's what I have figured out so far on my journey as an author.  Perhaps some of these strategies will work for you too.  Maybe you will take one strategy and put your own spin on it.


Collect your ideas--Let me start by saying that my "pre-writing" happens all the time.  I literally carry around a notebook with me wherever I go.  I jot down quotes that I hear or ideas that I have.  Sometimes it's just scribbles.  Once in a while I will use the ideas right away and other times the thoughts will stay stashed away in my notebook for months before I return to them again.

Create your atmosphere--a quiet room or a noisy coffee shop, maybe some distant background noise. It seems that every writer has their preferred way.  For me, it's no TV, no soundtrack playing to get me motivated. I find that I just need to be alone with my thoughts.  Not too comfortable of a place to sit, I need to keep focused and not wander away in the coziness of the spot.  I often find myself at the dining room table or sitting on the couch with the sun from the outside shining in on me. Every writer will create a different atmosphere.  Find yours and make it work.

During Writing

Get it on the page--Some writers are intentional about working from chapter to chapter, from logical beginning to end.  Not me.  I jump around to wherever my thoughts take me.  I may write a few paragraphs in one section and then move to something completely different.  I know that I need to get it on the page, in whatever way I can, reassuring myself that I can always go back and change it later.

Take a sidebar-- I know that we just got started writing so taking a sidebar may seem a bit like procrastination but sometimes that's how my writing goes. I had a great writing professor once tell me that writing doesn't have to always be writing.  Work on a reference list.  Stop to reread your notes.  Write a list of alternate titles.  Sometimes formal writing takes a backseat to other strategies that lead to future writing, so taking a break and having a short sidebar is OK.

What does this look like? For me, it might mean:

Hopping on Twitter to search a hashtag for ideas
Google image search related to what I'm writing about
Reading quotes from others on the same topic
Paging through my notebook for handwritten ideas that strike a chord
Leafing through a magazine
Draw, sketch, or doodle
Closing my eyes for a minute or two to pull ideas together
Talking to someone else about the topic

Post Writing

Walk away-- Sometimes I just have to step away from my laptop.  Sometimes you just need to take a mental and physical break from writing and clear your head. Don't sit there and beat yourself up waiting for the perfect idea or transition sentence to come to you. Walk away and take some time to refresh.  It will help you to returned to your work refocused and ready for your next piece.

Share with a critical friend--Just when you think you are done with a blog, an article, or chapter the last thing you might want to do is revise and edit your work, but sharing it with a critical friend may be what you need to take your writing to the next level.  Find a trusted colleague or valued critic who will give you some honest feedback.  Getting someone else's perspective may help you in your process.  Join a writing group like Teach Write  or create your own.

Finally, take some time to celebrate.  Writing is hard work.  Sometimes it can be exhausting.  It can also be invigorating and joyful.  As writers, we can't forget to step back and appreciate our own accomplishments. You have taken a risk and shared your ideas.  You are a writer.

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