I took a 'writing lunch' last week and decided to go old-school, pen and lined notebook paper style. I left work with exactly an hour to spare. I ended up in a Thai restaurant, requested a small table off in a corner by itself, and just started writing. I had no plan and in fact, I had constrained myself to NOT working on any of my existing projects. I wanted to see what would happen if I allowed myself to freely write. I started out a little slow, but by the time my food arrived (fabulous stir-fried noodles with vegetables), I was engrossed in a story and didn't want to stop writing. I was on a roll. It felt really good to be released from the self-imposed pressure of writing something really fabulous. I came home later and typed up the story and I had a little over 900 words. Not too shabby! The story is most likely complete crap, but the story isn't the really valuable part. The value lies in learning to transcend my usual patterns and boundaries. As a fringe benefit, I may have the beginning of a character sketch or scene that I can use. I'm always surprised how bits and pieces of my writing end up fitting together later. Of course, this kind of wildness won't work all the time. There are definitely times in which I need to focus, plan, and prioritize, but it is good exercise to let my creative self completely take over occasionally so that I can hear what she has to say. I tend to over-think and criticize my own work very harshly, even in first draft form, and this can scare away my creativity and imagination.This post is dedicated to the myriad of ways that we can prompt our inner talents to flow. I'm addressing it primarily in the context of creative writing, but these concepts could easily be applied to other creative endeavors.
I challenge you to schedule a creative lunch once a week. Consider it a gift to yourself.
I personally think reading is the single most inspirational, instructional activity in which writers can engage. This quote from Stephen King is taken from his memoir On Writing:
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
To grow as a fiction writer, you should read fiction, preferably good books. Of course, you could always read BAD books as an example of what not to do, but that seems like taking the long way around. Choosing which books to read can be difficult. There are soooooooooo many books and we have so little time, so I feel compelled to choose wisely. To this end, I am constantly reading book reviews, perusing book lists, and getting advice from other readers online. Sometimes, the process of researching the books is almost as much fun as actually reading them. As you go through the process of researching which books to read, you'll start to develop a good eye for the types of books that really resonate with you. I know now which booklists represent my reading style. For instance, several years ago, I decided that I was going to read one book from each author who had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. God only knows where I come up with wacky ideas like this. I spent quite a bit of time looking at lists of winners and reading reviews. I prepared a list of books and requested a f*@#-ton of books for Christmas. Turns out, I liked some of these books, but others left me cold. I've found that there are other lists that hit the mark more consistently for my tastes such as The Pulitzer Prize and The Man Booker Prize lists.
Unless you were born with a novel in your head waiting to be written, you need to work at it. Research what works for other writers. Even if the exact same methods don't work for you, they can give rise to great ideas. If nothing else, success stories can reassure you that it can be done. If you want to read books about writing, here is a short list of some that I have personally found useful:
- Poemcrazy, Susan Goldsmith Woolridge
- Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
- The Writing Life, Anne Dillard
- Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
- Word Work, Bruce Holland Rogers
- Best Words Best Order, Stephen Dobyns
Here are two additional books which are currently in my to-be-read list that I have high hopes for:
On Writing, Stephen King
Writing the Natural Way, Gabriele Rico
If you've read them and have comments, please let me know. They're on my bedside table right now begging for attention.
A friend and leader of the Writing Group I have recently joined, recommended to me a really amazing resource for writing. If you don't write or read sci-fi, don't be put off by the dragons or the general sci-fi theme. This is a fantastic site for writers of any genre. Brandon Sanderson has allowed his 2012 Creative Writing course at BYU to be filmed and made available freely for our viewing pleasure. I'm only partially through Lecture 2, and I've already learned many valuable things that I am applying to my writing. If you do listen to the lectures, you will hear Brandon's Writing Group construct for the class. We are following this general guidance for our group. Challenge yourself to listen to this set of lectures, or something else that will help you stretch yourself as a writer.
If you're a regular blog reader, you've heard this before, but it bears repeating - use Duotrope. It will help you to organize and keep track of your writing, and includes really awesome search capabilities for lit markets. The has just been revamped and is even more fabulous than usual!
Here is my advice in a list:
- Schedule time for creativity. Write a lot.
- Read good fiction.
- Research the craft of writing.
- Challenge yourself to learn new skills.
- Be organized.
I'll leave you with studio photos of a work-in-progress, I Laughed Until I Cried. Below, you see the progression of the painting from beginning to current state. I'm starting to feel that it's almost complete. I'm heating up my wax palette at this very moment.