I’ve been an avid reader and regular writer for most of my life. I have kept diaries, journals, date books, notebooks, Word docs and blogs as ways to keep up regular writing, although there have been long stretches when I didn’t write much at all. Every time I go travelling I promise myself that I’ll keep a daily journal or blog and I have only successfully achieved this once. Why? Because writing is really hard work! I know this, anyone who has written regularly for any reason knows this, and yet I still think there is some kind of magic state of mind that I can slip into where I will write, write, write AND finish all of the writing that I’ve started.
Well if you’re near the start of your writing journey I have this to tell you: that state doesn’t exist. There will be days when writing comes easily and days when it is so difficult you think you’ll never write again. There are hundreds of articles out there about beginning your writing journey, getting back into writing, maintaining good writing habits, and finishing projects that you’ve started. There are many different writing challenges that writers take to make themselves write more: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a well-known one, and I have undertaken this challenge twice and been both very successful (i.e. I completed the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days) and not at all successful (I couldn’t get it together to write and gave up after three days).
What I want to talk about here is the ground work that every writer needs to undertake in defining when, where and how they write. The following is a breakdown of the elements that you will need to experiment with to get into your ‘writer’s brain’:
1. Know and create your environment
On my first day at my first class of the first semester of my degree, the first thing we were told was ‘Find the best way to write that works for you’. I heard from one man whose best writing happened late at night in the semi-darkness with a television tuned between two stations so that static filled the room. Some people write best first thing in the morning. Some people write best sitting in a tree. Some people write best with headphones on listening to whale music. Understanding what works best for you as a writer is a life-long pursuit, and when you find what works for you seize it!
I do all of my work while listening to music, but from the beginning I knew that some types of music hinder my writing. I find it hard to concentrate on my own words if there are other words blasting into my brain, so I keep a playlist of Writing Music that has no lyrics. Classical music works, movie scores are excellent, and classical covers of well-known songs are also helpful. There are so many options for lyric-less music out there, and many writers write to music, so finding playlists is easy.
Other environmental distractions to identify and conquer include: the internet! Social media! Other people!
I don’t have solid solutions to all of these: the best I’ve come up with is to put a large swear-y sign on my office door, put on headphones, leave my phone elsewhere, and sign out of all social media on my computer so that it can’t pop up and distract me. Sometimes none of these work and I just have to try and power through the distractions!
Lesson: finding what works for you and being fierce about it will not only help you feel more like a writer, but also achieve the actual doing of the writing!
2. Know and choose your tools
Only recently have I found that typing directly into my computer works for me. Previously I preferred the physical act of writing ; I love notebooks, sharpened pencils, clicky pencils and fine-liners. I enjoy the measured pace and physical act of writing. Nothing can replace the feeling of watching your hand transfer your words, your thoughts and your voice into the real world, and if you have nice handwriting it’s even more satisfying. It is only through practice that writing directly onto the screen has worked for me, and there are still times when it doesn’t work, like when writing poetry, so experiment and find what works as your medium. You may even want to invest in a typewriter!
Lesson: know the tools available to you and choose them according to what will best bring forth the words.
3. Define the crap out of it then think the crap out of it
This is the hardest part to master and, of course, it is the most important: growing and getting into your ‘writer’s brain’. When approaching a writing project, get out the essay question, explore the topic, memorise the headings, outline the project, and keep thinking about it.
Let’s say you want to write a blog post about a topic that interests you. Define exactly what you want to do, define the aspects of the topic that you will mention; write down draft headings if that helps. Do as much as you can and then keep thinking about it even when you’re not doing it. Writing pages and pages of dot-points, brain storms and coloured diagrams can also be very helpful, depending on what kind of writing you’re doing. This process becomes easier the more times you do it, and eventually you’ll find yourself subconsciously brainstorming topics without even realising it. The important part is to keep ticking it over in the back of your mind; that’s where the words come from.
Lesson: worrying about the writing doesn’t get the writing done. Understanding what you’re trying to do and then doing it, even in tiny increments in your ‘writer’s brain’, will get the writing done.
Laying this ground work will get you started if you don’t even know where to begin. There are so many resources, exercises, classes and workshops out there for emerging writers, but these three lessons I give from experience. I hope that they help you on your journey to becoming a writer, whatever area of writing you want to work in.