Wednesday 2 February 2011

Writing Habits

I was casting around for ideas of things people would like to see on this blog, and there seems to be interest in writing processes. When I came across this post by Ali Luke of Aliventures on the 7 Habits of Serious Writers, I couldn't help but write a post about my own habits.


I've been writing since I can remember, and I've been writing regularly since I did a creative writing course when I was sixteen. However, it's only really been over the past couple of years that I've written with any serious intent. As a result, I actually write on a daily basis. I'm either working on flashes, stories I intend to submit, or something longer - at the moment, it's a novella. Some days, I might not actually add to the word count of the project, but I'll be brainstorming ideas around it, or working on plot problems. I'm also inherently competitive, so I find the vaguely obsessive-compulsive need to have a full scorecard on impels me to write daily, too.

Working with personal flaws

I have the attention span of a toddler so it's all too easy for me to get distracted. Maybe I'll log into Twitter "just to see what's going on" and I'll end up getting involved in a lengthy and enjoyable conversation. Some of the games on Facebook are dangerously addictive. Having said that, if I get an idea for a story and I decide to just "jot bits down", I often find I get so wrapped up in jotting things down as they come to me that I end up writing something anyway. In a peculiar kind of way, I distract myself from the idea of writing with the need to preserve the story as it comes to me.

Books galore

I make a point of reading both fiction and non-fiction. There's always a book in my bag - at the moment, it's a book about the American West, but I'm also reading a book about quantum mechanics, as well as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I tend to read a lot of historical NF (which informs my historical fiction) but I like to read the works of other writers too. Sometimes I'm trying to get a feel for a genre, sometimes I'm curious how other writers structure their novels, and sometimes I just want to be entertained. Every now and then, I also read books on the craft of writing - I personally enjoy James Scott Bell's books - although I tend to prefer blogs about writing as it feels like less of a slog to get through them.

Work can always be better

I never post the first draft of anything. Whatever you see on here will have always been redrafted at least twice before I paste it into Blogspot, and sometimes it'll be tweaked even before I hit 'Publish Post'. My first drafts are often terrible - my novella is an absolute mess, but since I know what I need to do with it, I'm still quite proud of it. However, I know that redrafting is almost as important to the process as the initial writing, so I might leave a piece for a few days, or a couple of weeks, before I go back and cast fresh eyes over it.

Getting my work out there

I write for three reasons. First and foremost - it never occurred to me not to do so. I've written from the time I was able to form letters with crayons - I asked my mother, and she can't remember a time when I wasn't scribbling down a story, or bashing one out on her old typewriter. Writing is a lot like eating or walking - it's just something I do. Secondly, I enjoy telling stories. It's fun. Thirdly, I want to entertain. Not a particularly lofty goal, but I'm a big believer in escapism, so if I can provide someone with the means to escape the drudgery of their everyday life, then I consider my job done. As a result, I provide my weekly Friday flashes, and I have two e-books available. I submit my work to anthologies, and I'm working on novels. It's all about getting the work out there.

Thinking about it

Even when I'm not writing, I'm thinking about my work in progress, or the next flash. I've started outlining my flashes so I can take a handful of sentences scrawled in my notebook and flesh them out into the stories I post every week. I'm constantly going over the plot points or characters in my novella, asking myself what a character's motivation might be, or what might cause them to behave in a particular way. If it doesn't sit right with me, I change it - because chances are, if something doesn't ring true with me, it won't ring true with a reader. It is the writer's job to communicate the story properly, and it's a job I intend to do well.

These are my habits. What are yours?


Jen said...

Good habits, Icy. I especially like that you list thinking about writing as a writing habit, because it really is. For me it's what turns a basic idea into something I can write, and keeps momentum going throughout the story.

I don't really have anything to add. Your list is excellent. Though one habit I have gotten into in the last year is writing down my goals and accomplishments so I keep myself motivated & know when I'm slacking.

Benjamin Solah said...

I love reading these kinds of posts. They inspire me and I'm just curious and that. I try to write everyday but posts telling me that other people do kind of remind me again that I need to be doing it regularly

Carrie Clevenger said...

Reference! Music! Umm, oh right . There was that whole writing thing somewhere, but to me that's the least of it. most of the writing is done in my mind before I drop it to words.

Goooood post Icy!

Icy Sedgwick said...

Jen - Well spending time thinking about the project helps keep the mind ticking over on it, and it means you're ready to go when you sit down to actually write. Really helps to 're-claim' all the time lost standing in queues etc.

Benjamin - You don't have to write every day religiously but I'd definitely say regular writing has helped me improve. Obviously the more you do it, the faster you improve!

Carrie - It's probably best if you write a lot of it in your head first. Makes that blank Word document seem a whole lot less intimidating!

Tony Noland said...

I'll second the benefits of regular writing. When I committed to doing FridayFlash every week, all of my writing improved. I don't write every day, although that's long been a personal goal.

I try to challenge myself, writing from different perspectives, in unfamiliar genres or on difficult topics. Even once I come back to more familiar territory, it gives me more angles and techniques I can use.

Sam said...

I don't write every day, at least not words-on-paper writing, but I can't remember the last time I spent a day without plotting, schemeing or brainstorming some story idea or other. I also try to read every day, though I've not been that successful at it lately. Books of choice are generally historical fiction as I often find interesting snippets in other author's work to go off and research for my own projects.

I'm not really sure what it is that I write, I reckon I'm still in my experimental stage in terms of genre, though I enjoy writing flash fiction and occasionally something a little longer. Not so sure I'm up to tackling a novel yet, though I do have an idea for one...

Great post, Icy! :)

Magaly Guerrero said...

I write and read, a lot. The second part is good and bad. I love the fact that I read like a maniac, but sometimes it steals my writing time (and my everything else time) I need to work on controlling my reading appetite.

We share the attention span bit. My ideas fight over who is going to be written first; it's overwhelming at times. I'm getting better by outlining whatever pops in my head and continuing to work on existing works, but hot damn, it's hard at times!

Laurita said...

Great post, Icy. I'm with you on reading as much as possible. I don't know how those who don't read can even contemplate writing. That's a great point about the "personal flaws" as well.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Tony - I quite agree - ever since I started doing weekly flashes, my writing has improved. I've attempted a greater variety of subjects, too. And you're right - the more you practice new things, the more you can use it on your "main" work.

Sam - I know some writing "coaches" will say that thinking about writing is not the same as writing, but it depends on what thinking you're doing. If you're thinking about a project, then that's writing. If you're thinking about how you'd like to write, then that's wishful thinking. Keep at it!

Magaly - I keep getting distracted by new projects - I've had to force myself to have a To Do list and new things go at the bottom, not the top!

Laurita - I figured that there's no point beating yourself up over quirks of your personality. Use them to your advantage!

Larry Kollar said...

Great advice, Icy.

I'm in a "writing vacation" phase at the moment — but just like checking work email during a real vacation, I can't resist the occasional urge to write a little here and there (mostly #FridayFlash). I'm going to try whittling the reading pile down; I haven't just sat down and read much for the last couple years because my "not everything else" time was spent writing.

But even when I'm writing, it's difficult to put butt in chair every evening when there's a baby grandson, boarders, and inlaws to herd. I'd love to multitask, do some reading and some writing, but it doesn't usually work out that way.

The serialized novels I've posted are what I call 1.5th drafts. By the time an episode hits the blog, I've gone over it several times and have often rewritten large swatches, but mostly when it goes up it's very similar to what I put down to begin with. I post them that way because it gives me an incentive to keep going — it's so easy to abandon a novel halfway through (and I have a couple of those) when there's so much else going on in life. I have about 1/3 of the sequel to the current novel written, so I'm going to see if I can finish it without the serialization "crutch." Who knows? But I missed writing short stories, so I'm glad that there's such a thing as #FridayFlash.

Walt said...

I don't write nearly as much fiction as I used to, or as much as I would like to. One of my biggest hangups, which you touched on, was not reading a large enough variety of things. I tend to read for entertainment most of the time. In addition, I tend to read series written by a single author. While it is entertaining, I get so caught up in that one author's style that my writing reads like it is too influenced by that author. One of my goals this year is to diversify my reading.

Unknown said...

As a physicist, I wholly applaud your reading up on QM :)

But as far as these habits, I have to agree that they are all very important for any writer. I especially like your million word challenge. That alone is the best habit one could probably engage in to become a better writer. Write...and write a lot!

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