One of the most common phrases I hear these days, when someone finds out what I do with a good deal of my time, is “I’m gonna write a book one of these days.” Something about books – and writing them – seems to hold quite an allure over a great number of people.
The good news, for those of you who fall into that camp of aspiring writers, is that writing can be learned. Sure, some people are naturally skilled at it, while others, well, write not so goodly.
I taught a Writing Workshop in January at a local high school (shoutout to The Rock School for having me!), and in preparation I went online to learn as much as I could about the habits, practices and philosophies of leading authors. I watched or read materials from Walter Mosley, Stephen King, Kate DiCamillo, Michael Connelly, C.S. Lewis, John Grisham, James Patterson, and others.
Although there were many ideas, two were held in common, almost universally.
First, write daily. As Mosley says, a story needs to bounce around in your subconscious to allow concepts to grow and storylines and characters to emerge. To do that, the story needs to be constantly in your brain. Grisham writes for two or three hours each morning, while DiCamillo limits herself to two pages a day. But all of them write daily.
For his daily writing, Stephen King says that he orients his desk to a blank wall, since what he needs to draw upon is in his mind, not outside a window.
Second, don’t revise as you write. That is, don’t worry about how rough your first draft is. For instance, if the bad guy is going to shoot somebody, just put the gun in his hand and write it: “The .22 caliber Glock clicked, the last sound poor, sweet, innocent Sam would ever hear, then the bullet exploded through his chest, shattering his ribs on its was to making an exit wound the size of a regulation NBA basketball.”
Does Glock make a .22? Would it click? Would there be an exit wound at all?
At this point, who cares? Just get it down on paper (or pixels). If you don’t know guns, when you’re revising, find someone who does. If you stop to do the research or find someone, you’ll lose the momentum you’ve been building by writing every day. (I was guessing that I was misspelling Dicamillo throughout by not capitalizing the “C” as I wrote, but I waited until I was done to go look it up. Sure enough, I was wrong. But I didn’t lose my train of thought – I’m learning!!!)
Finally, a bonus tip – tip three of two that I promised. This one doesn’t come from an author, but from “The Organized Mind” by Daniel Levitin, a UCLA brain researcher. Levitin is concerned, between the Internet, Smartphones and political candidates, that our brains are subjected to a daily influx of information the likes of which we’ve never seen in history. We are truly adrift in a sea of information. He suggests that we “offload” as much information as we can from our brains to an external device – a Smartphone, daily planner, etc. I use the terribly low-tech approach of 3×5 index cards with one item per card – a shopping list, an interesting turn of phrase, a possible subplot – and try and save my limited mental capacity for more important things.
So…write daily. Just get something down. And offload whatever you can.
And have fun!