I was interested to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips?
Not bad! I actually left that comment up for awhile and was going to respond to it, until an Adwords certified friend recommended I delete it . . . because it was spam. So I deleted it, but I’ll answer the question here because it’s a good one.
In some ways, I’m the wrong writer to answer this question because I actually advocate the art of procrastination. In other ways, I’m a good person to answer this question because I write professionally, and therefore, by necessity, prolifically. So here’s what I do when I’m getting started on writing something–whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.
1. Write other shit to warm up. When I sit down to write, the last thing my brain wants to do is the thing I’m trying to do. So I get myself in pen-to-paper or thoughts-to-keyboard mode by first writing something else. I might write a letter in longhand, type an email, comment on another blog, compose a tweet, post something ridiculous on Facebook, or IM with similarly word-minded friends, of which I’m fortunate to have several. Here’s one such esteemed personage and another and another.
2. Draft complete crap. Write to just get it all out, knowing that you’ll refine your thoughts later. Anne Lamott calls these early efforts “shitty first drafts.” While they’re not often well organized, they typically feature at least a few good turns of phrase, and exactly what you need to springboard off of into the lake of fine prose.
3. Smoke a lot. I often do this at home, but I don’t do it at work, as it’s not allowed. But just as alcohol and writing have a deep history, cigarettes and writing marry like PB&J, as you can see in the photo above.
Actually, don’t smoke while writing, and don’t smoke at all. It’s bad for your health. And personally, I write more at work, not smoking, than I do at home, smoking.
4. Scratch distractions. Chuck your phone, put on some headphones and listen to music without lyrics, and let the people around you know not to disturb you. For some, this is just a matter of saying “Hey, I’m writing now, so please leave me alone for awhile.” For others, this involves waking up earlier or staying up later than their housemates, or writing when their housemates are out. Whatever works, but it’s pretty fair to say that once you’ve got your springboard from Step 2, it’s actually hard not to dive into the lake of your work because the momentum is finally there.
5. Do unto your writing as Hemingway did unto his. To be honest, I haven’t yet (though maybe I one day will) come across a Hemingway novel that has blown my mind, but I love that great book about his life in Paris, A Moveable Feast. In it he says “stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day . . . you will never be stuck.”
This tip works for me with my work writing, though I have to admit that it was over two years ago that I stopped when I was “going good” with The House on the Lake and when I knew what would happen next. But, that said, my particular fiction dilemma ties into my feelings about productive procrastination: many things have come up in the last two years and so I’ve been dealing with them, while waiting for the kairos for THOTL.
Generally, these strategies usually often sometimes work for me–at least at work, where I write for 8+ hours a day. I can’t, however, these days, attest to these tips working super well at home. So for that maybe I’ll try author Brian Moreland’s Step #7.
Let me know what works for you!