Monday, July 28, 2008

Writing Practices

This summer, now that I've spent my year adjusting to being in a new place in a slightly different academic discipline, I've begun to work towards reclaiming some of the practices that have helped me stay sane and productive of various kinds of writing over the years. Here's how I did it:
  1. Realized I was becoming unbearably grumpy (always the first step towards recovery).
  2. Went to my creative neuroses books for help. Notably, I went to Anne Lamott's marvellously funny Bird by Bird and Vinita Hampton Wright's deeply insightful The Soul Tells a Story. A mini-writer's retreat at home with these books (all I could afford at the time) reminded me that all writers have neuroses, and that it's important to work through them and build up a series of helpful creative practices, or--surprise, surprise--the neuroses affect your productivity (as though it's not hard enough when you're doing everything you can to help).
  3. On a visit to my old town, I stayed in my old apartment and remembered the things I did to help myself write the first draft of my novel while working long work weeks at a stressful job.
  4. When I returned, I made a list of these practices, posted it on the wall above my bed, and started to work towards practicing them.

Since I know that by now you're unbearably curious to know what they are, the indispensable ones are:

  • Regular journaling, which helps me regularly clear other issues out of my head so it's clear for its writing work; and
  • Regular walks, which help me to sleep better, to notice things around me, to think through anything that hasn't been journalled, and to be an embodied human being instead of someone sitting in a chair all day every day.

Other helpful practices are:

  • Breaking down all my big writing projects into smaller manageable chunks when I feel I'm not getting anything done on them (then planning what I can do),
  • Showering and bathing (it's a cliche, but the best breakthroughs really do come then),
  • Going to sleep if the chaos reigns in my head (often I wake up with a breakthrough), and
  • Reading poetry, fiction, and other creative works.

These practices, and others, help me, an Artist's Way dropout, to stay creative and productive of a variety of styles of writing, and I'm determined to give them more priority in my life, both now and when the semester starts. They're already paying dividends in helping me to recover from what I'd begun to wonder would be irretrievable grumpiness and lack of a sense of humor, as well as helping me finish the 20 page paper I'm writing for my summer independent study. Here's hoping I can keep them up--I think it will be at least a tiny bit easier to do in the second year of my PhD work.

What about you? What practices do you have that help you write?


Emmyday said...

Yay - new blog! I like it. I have no practices that help me write creatively, because I don't really write creatively, but, to totally contradict myself, I have been keeping a journal / poetry book that I force myself to write in every day before I begin my academic work for the day. It's usually stream of consciousness or nonsense, but it helps to settle me into a writing mode. And to remind me, like you're saying, that my life consists of more than one way of thinking and processing thoughts.
- Em

Deborah Leiter said...

Yeah! Thanks, em, for baptizing the new bloggish creation with its first comment. And of course you write creatively--I've seen your Facebook statuses. :)

rilla said...

Huzzah! I also love the new blog. Now that I'm *supposed* to write creatively every day, I hope I continue to love it. I'm very nervous about what new neuroses I'll come up with in this stage of my life.

Deborah Leiter said...

Ril, I was thinking of you when I thought of the concept. This way we can struggle through our neuroses together.