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How to Develop a Sustainable Writing Practice Using Cheap Tools
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
May 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
May 2019

This guest post was provided by our May Guest Editor Devi S. Laskar, author of The Atlas of Reds and Blues

The key to writing is…well, writing. I’ve heard from several successfully published writers that they don’t write every day and I have been encouraged not to write every day. I agree there are occasions one should take breaks and vacations. However, if you’re an aspiring writer and are serious about writing then I think you need to develop a serious writing practice. Doctors, for example, train a great deal and then they go into something called a medical practice. It’s not called medical perfect – it’s a profession that requires constant experience. Writers, especially new writers, should spend time developing good habits, honing skills and sharpening their focus. The more you write, the better your work will become. Writers who say they don’t write every day remind me of the people I went to school with when I was much younger who did well on their tests and then went around telling everyone how they didn’t study. Everyone knew that they studied but for some reason it was more prestigious for them to say that they didn’t.

I am a 52-year-old debut novelist. I have been writing poetry since the age of nine and I’ve been writing prose (first journalism and then fiction) for more than half my life. I didn’t get the advice I’m about to outline until late so I’m hoping you’ll try these strategies and largely avoid writers block and depression – and build a sustainable writing practice.

Steps:

1. Go to the dollar store or your local pharmacy and buy the cheapest spiral notebook you can find, one with a super flimsy cover and spirals already about to uncoil from the paper.

2. Then buy a bag of pens that are cheap and come in packs of twelve for two dollars.

What I don’t want you to do is buy expensive paper at a stationery store or a really expensive journal from a bookstore. Also, I don’t want you to use the pen that your grandmother gave you when you graduated from high school. I want you to you use cheap tools because then what you’re doing is focusing your energy away from trying to write something that matches the caliber of the utensils you’re using - and instead you’re focusing on writing.

3. Next, I want you to set the timer in your microwave or on your smartphone  --  every day I want you to write for 10 consecutive minutes. Write whatever comes to you your mind for the allotted time. Do not think. Just write. When the timer sounds, close your notebook and go do something else.

I recently spoke to high school students about my novel and my writing process. I talked about the spiral notebook technique. One of the students asked, “What if I want to curse?”

I said, “Curse on the page. Write down every bad word you can think of for 10 minutes. At the end of that time when you’re absolutely sick of doing that, you’ll write a sentence that I promise will be gold.”

Do this timed practice every day for one month.

4. At the end of the month, you’ll find that your notebook is full and then you get to take a week off to give your eyes and brain a rest. 

A quarter-century ago, I had the great privilege of studying with the poet Lucille Clifton in graduate school. She was a wonderful poet and a friend to me. One of her talking points was about the oral tradition of storytelling. Long before stories were written, people passed down their histories by telling each other stories. She always encouraged us to read our work aloud, even to ourselves if we couldn’t find an audience. She noted that when you read aloud and your tongue trips over a phrase or word, it is an indication that perhaps this is a place to consider making a different word choice. Fun fact: when I was editing The Atlas of Reds and Blues, I read each word out loud to myself. Twice. It helped me smooth over rough patches, it caused me to reconsider the order of the book and move crucial chapters to better locations. In short: it improved my story.

5. At the end of the week off, return to your notebook with a highlighter in hand and read aloud every sentence you’ve written in the past month. Every sentence that sounds good to you I want you to highlight. When you’re done highlighting the entire notebook, look back over it.

Abracadabra! You have just created a book of personal wonders  – you will have poem fragments, starts of essays and short stories in there. You will have this marvelous mind map that your subconscious has created for you. You will discover things from different parts of the month that connect somehow. And you will not have to suffer through writers block again. You can always turn to your book of wonders and pick something from it that you highlighted and start from there. I’ve done this notebook now several times. When I feel myself starting to get stuck and nothing in an existing notebook interests me, I buy a spiral notebook and write for 10 minutes every day for a month.

So far, this sustained practice has helped me produce two poetry chapbooks and a critically acclaimed novel – and I’ve got another poetry collection and my second novel in the works. Try the technique and see where it leads you. Don’t wait until tomorrow to begin – start today.  

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