Since I’ve gotten serious and all about this whole writing thing, I’ve learned a thing or two about how I like to work. Most of this was thanks to trial and error over the last few months.
Weekly Writing Activities
1) Spend two hours at the coffee shop or library
I try to ride my bike (weather permitting) to the coffee shop and/or library at least twice a week for some dedicated writing time. Just me, a pen and notebook, and all the white noise I could want. I write at home as well, but the act of going to a specific place to write helps me focus. Two hours is about the max for me I’ve discovered when I am working on first drafts. When editing, it’s harder to know when my brain will give out on me, but the caffeine does help. Just do me a favor and go somewhere that’s local and not Starbucks. Good karma will abound.
2) Monitor RSS feeds daily
I’ll do a more elaborate discussion of sites to follow another day, but suffice it to say you should be keeping track of the movers and shakers in the blogosphere relating to all things writing, publishing, and the world at large. For motivation, for information, for procrastination, for confirmation. A good place to start is Writer’s Digest’s list of 101 best websites for writers.
3) Read one book a week in the genre I’m writing in
Sometimes I get through more, depending on how compelling the book is, how busy I am, etc., but I aim to read at least one book in the area I am trying to work in. So if I am working on a speculative fiction draft, you can bet I am reading as many Hugo and Nebula award winners as I can.
4) Track my word counts
This can get rather anal retentive, and implicitly, this type of activity tends to place emphasis on quantity over quality, but at the same time, knowing how many words I churn out in a day, a week, or a month is surprisingly encouraging. Author Barry Lyga says you need to write a million bad words before you really understand how to write well. By keeping track of the words I produce, I know I am inching closer and closer to that threshold each day. Theoretically, I should be getting better.
5) Read books on craft when time allows
I try not to formally force this into my routine, but at times I find myself paging through various how-to guides for inspiration, to help with a particular scene, or just for my general edification. Since I never took a creative writing class in college (ok, well I did take a screenwriting class, but it emphasized the format, not the actual writing), reading books on writing have been useful, so long as they don’t get in the way of, well, actually writing.
6) Participate in a writing group
I joined a local writing group I guess nine months or so ago, and it has been hugely beneficial. The group emphasizes improvisational writing, which means once a week we work from various writing prompts, spend 15 to 20 minutes free writing, and then share our work. I don’t think I am a very strong spur-of-the-moment writer -- I find more success working on pieces iteratively -- so this group has helped me practice and grow more confident. Some of the work has surprised me, some has disappointed me, and some has potential to become something more. While I would like to find a group whose goal is polishing work for publication, I wouldn’t want to give my current group up.
When Actually Writing
By hand – I am a huge proponent of writing by hand, especially when it comes to generating new content. People have spoken before and more eloquently than I could on how the act of writing by hand helps their creative juices. I make sure I have a notebook with me at all times to jot down snippets, ideas, or full drafts. And I do all this in pen. Pencils have never been my friend – maybe because I stabbed myself in the hand with one by accident and still have the graphite smudge under my skin to prove it.
Printouts – I generally print out my work to edit, and I don’t wait until I have a polished, nearly complete manuscript to do so. Often I cobble together a skeleton draft by hand, type it up, and then print it out to add on the actual flesh of the story. It helps me see the words in print, but gives me the flexibility to add to and edit by hand, which I prefer.
On screen – I edit on screen too, but not as often. Sometimes it is because I don’t have time or the ink to print out the material I want to work with. Sometimes it is because I don’t have a real goal for editing – I am just looking for general issues that pop out at me. And when it’s a small project (as opposed to say a novel), it can make sense to write and edit solely on screen.
Whenever I am using my notebook computer for writing, I have an army of go-to resources to support my work. First and foremost is Microsoft Word. Say what you want, all you Mac lovers, but I can’t give up Word. I rely on Visual Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster, and WordWeb to assist me in identifying the proper word. If I have trouble coming up with a concept or am still struggling to identify how I want to say something, the Onelook Reverse Dictionary can sometimes help. When it comes to research, I start with Wikipedia (surprise!) and then work my way to my local library to find the resources I need to get my facts straight. And since I have a hard time coming up with names, I often use Babynames.com to find just the right name by meaning, number of syllables, etc.
What works for you?