How do you write?
I don’t mean the hows and whys of writing a story, but the physical exercise of writing. Is there a certain place you like to write? A certain time? A certain mood you like to be in? We’re all different, but one of the biggest things I have heard from others who enjoy writing is that getting started -- that is, the actual sitting down and writing -- can be one of the hardest things to do.
For a long time, I struggled with the physical act of writing and it bred frustration that made even thinking about writing seem like a chore. As somebody who loves writing and telling a good story, getting over that initial bump in the road was daunting. Over time, however, I came to realize the actual problem, which was namely, I kept trying to write in a place and time that just was not conducive to how I operate efficiently. Once I had this realization, I started to examine what things led to that mythical “zone” of creation I enjoyed being in. For me, it boiled down to eliminating distractions and not trying to be creative if my mind and emotional state simply were not in it for the long haul.
Distractions, I think, is probably one of the biggest obstacles that we all share. Like it or not, we all have things that we have to do; chores, homework, taking care of children -- four legged and otherwise -- as well as making a living. Still, there are other distractions that get in the way that we can control:
1.) The Internet
This is probably the biggest in this day and age. It’s always a mouse-click away and it can eat hours out of the time you give yourself to write. Long gone are the days when it was you and a typewriter, click-clacking away at the blank sheet of paper. Yet, there is something very real and ideal about that typewriter and blank paper: it is you and it, nothing more. You are forced to focus on the words you are writing, it’s the pressing of keys that become words that becomes a story; you become one with the tool. Well, maybe not quite that zen, but because it’s not a computer hooked to a digital pipeline with “Look at me!” webpages and social networking, it by default demands focus.
There are two ways of dealing with this, I have found. One, perhaps the hardest of the two, is to turn off your Internet connection. Unplug. Unwind. Create. However, sometimes you do need to do research, or look up a random name for that guy who just walked into the café and accused your main character of murder, so turning your connection on and off can get a bit troublesome. It can be argued that you can make a note and come back to it later; this may very well be a good course of action for you, so don’t discount it.
It failed for me, however, so I found myself using the number two solution: full screen writing applications! These are writing applications that are for one thing and one thing only, the business of writing stories. These take up the entire computer screen, typically devoid of menu bars, style selectors, or anything else that might grab your attention. More importantly, however, is that it blocks the view of other windows and other flashing items on your screen. It’s the digital version of the blank piece of paper in the typewriter. It’s you and the words. As it should be. (I’ll cover a whole host of such applications and how to use them in part two.)
There is an important point to make about these writing applications: they are not word processors! Yes, you can use things like Microsoft Word, OpenOffice Write, and OSX Pages to write stories. It’s been done, but that is not the focus of such applications. They are meant to create actual documents that are meant to be viewed as much for their layout as for their textual content. There is a subtle difference there: what you are writing is meant to be read, words that flow from the page into the reader’s head so they can envision your brilliant story; word processors are optimized to make business documents. Full of tables, headers, lists, charts, and other mundane things you have to view at meetings. Just look at Microsoft Word, for example. The most important things for the application are visual layout options on the toolbar. This is a case of using the right tool for the job and part of the job of writing applications is to remove distractions!
This is an often overlooked aspect of writing, or for that matter, any creative pursuit. Typically, your mind is going to have to be in a certain state to allow creativity to happen. Our minds are able to filter out a lot of noise, normally, but things can still creep by and grab your attention. I don’t mean music here, unless it’s in the background kind; people often find music is actually helpful in reaching that creative zone. I mean the kind of noise that tends to happen in the background.
For me, I found that having the TV on in the background was a huge no-no, since it always stole my attention even if it was a show I found uninteresting. Likewise, having too many people around typically threw me off track as well. Identifying these things for yourself will be important, not only for yourself, but also for those around you. Most of us, I’m sure, are not allowed to write in a cocoon.
One of my biggest purchases in the last couple years has a set of noise canceling ear-phones. These are the kind that through the power of magic -- or so I am told -- eliminate most of the background noise around you, even if you are not actively listening to something like music. The pair I have are wonderful and worth the money I spent on them -- with the only downside for me is that they get a bit uncomfortable after a couple hours due to them pressing against my big ol’ ears.
Likewise, finding a quiet place to write helps. A side room or even a bedroom, away from noise in the living room, can make a world of difference. Or maybe not even at home! I have been going to my local library to write, since it’s ultra quiet and has the dual benefit for making me feel guilty if I am not writing. Finding such a place is not always practical, of course, so that brings us to the last important source of noise: other people.
I can attest, there is nothing worst than someone being antagonistic to your writing time. I have no easy solutions for this -- outside of heavy usage of duct tape -- other than make sure the people butting into your creative time are aware of your desire to not be bothered while writing. Sometimes, it is very hard for others around us to understand what we are doing when we are writing on the computer. They can’t see the story going on in your mind or understand that asking about if the car if full of gas breaks your stream of steamy dialogue with that waitress in the café. Be patient and ask for it in return. Maybe your writing will someday allow them to have two cars with full gas tanks.
This one is a little harder to deal with, being in the busy, go-go-go world that we live in. So much so, that I can’t spend too much time writing about it, because it’s hard to confine or give advice on it. However, I am willing to bet, most of us have a certain time of day that we do our best writing in. Sadly, for me, that tends to be around 3am; I’m a night owl by nature. Yours may be 8am or shortly after dinner. Try and find your time and see if you can schedule some writing time around those moments. Even if it is 30 or so minutes, those might be the 30 minutes you get the best writing done in. Knowing when your creative juices tend to peak is important however, so it is something to keep in mind.
Getting all these ducks to line up is going to be very hard, if not outright impossible, but each little step in eliminating the distractions, in molding your writing environment to suit your needs, adds to your ability to get your writing done. In the end, you have to control your environment and not let it control you, and this means not letting laziness get in the way; writing is work and that includes the meta-parts that go with the writing! You may not be able to have your perfect situation, but you can achieve most of it.
In the next part, I will cover some of the writing applications I mentioned above, as well as some various tools you can use to organize yourself to make the most of the time you have to write.