foundational writing practices

10 Foundational Writing Practices

Work-174946-mMy church is currently featuring a series on foundational spiritual practices and as I listened to our minister a couple of Sundays ago, I started thinking (as always) about writing.  What, I wondered, would I consider to be foundational writing practices?  I pondered and made notes on this for a few days and this blog post is the result.

What do I mean by foundational practice?  I mean the activities that will insure you a successful and inspired writing life, one that will keep you productive and make you happy. (Because I am convinced that if a writer is writing, the rest of her life can be falling apart and she'll still be happy, or at least deeply satisfied.)

So, here goes–my list of the ten foundational writing practices I think are vital to your life.

1.  Write every day.  Something, anything.  Even if it is for five minutes.  Committing to this has the potential to change your writing (and you) in a powerful way.

2.  Follow the writing process.  Let her rip!  Write a shitty first draft in which everything you got at the moment is glumped onto the page.  And then rewrite and revise it until your manuscript is a glowing jewel. 

3.  Read as much as you can in your genre–or any other genre, for that matter.   If you're not reading you shouldn't be writing.  Period.  You've got to get the rhythm of words inside you in order to be able to spit them out onto the page.

4. Study craft.   Read the experts so you can master the fundamentals–and then go beyond them.  Read writing books, writing blogs, and any article on craft you can get your hands on.

5.  Keep a journal and/or an idea book.   Journaling and morning pages are wonderful tools to develop ease and flow in your writing.   But sometimes when you're wrapped up in your WIP, you don't want to take time for journaling.  That's cool.  But at least keep a journal of ideas.

6.  Learn the fundamentals of grammar and spelling.  But don't obsess about them, either.  You've got to learn the basics!

7.  Connect with other writers.  Okay, I know you're an introvert and would rather spend hours at your desk.  But the rewards of connecting with other writers are immense.  Nobody gets a writer like another writer, period.  And these days you can connect online and never have to leave your desk.  Except you also want to consider:

8.  Move your body.  Sitting at her desk all day makes Mary a wide girl.  It's really important to move those bones–walking, running, yoga, something.  

9.  Calm your mind.  Pay your hard-working brain some attention, too.  Spend time in meditation, or prayer, or even just take a few deep breaths to clear the cobwebs out throughout the day.  This will help with:

10.  Stay positive.  This is a tough business.  You're going to get bad reviews, rejections from editors, crappy emails from people who don't like your work.  If you maintain a positive mindset, it is easy to say, f–k it when this happens.

Okay, those are mine.  What are yours?  

Photo by clarita.

1. Only Write/Writing Abundance: Just Begin

This is the first post of a projected very long series and future info product whose name is still under consideration (hence the dual titles above).  For background on what's going on, read my post from yesterday. You might also want to read about the Writing Abundance system that this series is going to cover in depth.  You can do that here.  All of the posts will be readily available in the sidebar to the right, at least until I introduce it as an info product.  And now, with all that being said, let's get going:

Starting With ToolsFountain_pencil_writing_238392_l

To begin, we start with tools.  Now, here's the deal: the best thing about writing is that all you really need is paper and pen.  The worst thing about being a writer is that all you need is paper and pen.

Why do I say that?  Because sometimes I long for a profession that has more tools to it.  Think of all the great equipment painters get to play around with.  Or architects.  Or construction workers.  Sometimes I think that if writing required more tools, it would make it easier.  Then if the words didn't come, we could blame it on a rusty saw instead of an addled brain.

Alas, such is not the case.  All we really need is paper and pen.  Or pencil.  Yes a computer is pretty good, too, obviously, but its not a technical requirement.  And for me, when I'm flailing in my writing, I return to the basics of paper and pen.  Which is why I choose my few tools carefully, and you should, too.

I have a thing for pens, for starters.  Have to have just the right one, the one that feels right, or the words won't flow.  The pen that feels right varies from day to day, too.  The one that is perfect on Sunday may not work for me at all by the next Friday.  But most of the time I go on pen kicks.  I've been on a fountain pen kick for quite awhile now.  But sometimes I find a pen at the grocery store I like and use that until I get bored with it. The point is to find a pen or pens you love and buy them by the bushel because you'll need them.  Pens have an annoying habit of running out of ink.  They also disappear.  I'm convinced that somewhere there is an alternative universe built entirely from lost pens, the stray socks that the dryer eats, and all the Legos my son lost when he was a little boy.

Notebook_agenda_schedule_260757_l And then, of course, there is paper.  Ah, journals.  Just when I think I'm totally in love with Moleskines and will never, ever, ever use anything else, some lovely flowery thing presents itself to me at an office supply store and I buy six of those.  And then there are legal pads.  And notebook paper.  I love it all.  But what I choose to write on at any given moment has to be right for the project I'm starting.  (I'm really not quite as neurotic as all this sounds.)  Sometimes I want to keep all my notes and ideas together in a journal and sometimes I want the space a legal pad provides.

All this is by way of saying that the few tools we get are important. So treasure them.  And choose them wisely.  Buy a journal and pen that you love.  Or if you adore writing with pencils, do it.  Get the pen that has the right heft in your hand so that you pick it up and just feel like writing.  Because now it is time to….

Just Begin

All you really have to do is pick up your pen and write.  Just that.  Nothing more.  It is that simple, and yet we make it incredibly hard.  I know this, because I make it hard all the time.  I think that I don't know what to write about, what I want to write about, or what I should write about.  Sometimes when I pick up my pen and journal, nothing comes.

And yet…

All you have to do is start from where you are now.  Stop.  Sit down.  Pick up your pen and paper.  Look around you.  And begin.

What do you see?  Write about it.

What do you really see?  Write about it.

What do you really, really see?  Look closely.  Look at an object as closely as if you were drawing it. Write about what is right in front of you.  All of it.  Every blessed thing you see–the stain on the floor and how it looks like Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon, the translucent dried leaf on the potted plant, the elegant mien of the woman in the black and white striped cardigan at the table next to you.  Or the way the sunlight strains through your studio window.

Geneen Roth talks about the state of being married to amazement, which is a line from a poem by Mary Oliver.  And that is what writing about what's in front of you will do.   Writing about the pattern of veins on that potted plant's leaves will have you gasping in awe at the beauty of this planet. Writing about what's in front of you will create amazement about every aspect of your life.  Washing your hands, you'll note the feel of the cool water and the sweet smell of the vanilla soap. Writing this way makes you begin to notice things.  And if you can begin to notice what's in front of you, you can begin next to put together a poem about it.  Or a short story.  Or it will lead to an idea for an article.  Maybe even a novel.

In this way, we write.  And all you have to do to get there is just begin.

On Thursday, we'll get into the first foundational practice that will turn you into a prolific and prosperous writer, connecting.  So stay tuned!