Someone told me to check out this blog from a painter stating ways to grow yourself as an artist. (https//chrisgallego.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/5-unusual-habits-to-keep-you-growing-artistically/). I decided much of this applied to writers as well but I added a few of my own thoughts and came up with ten ways to grow your writing, remembering that there is no way to separate the writer from the writing. If the writer grows, the writing can also grow.
1. Write Crap
Yes, give yourself permission to write crap. There is a reverse psychology in effect here. The freedom to not write well tends to give you permission to try things, to go on creative impulse versus trying for perfection. And as Annie Lamott observed everyone writes shitty first drafts. It is natural for any artist in any field to produce a body of work. Some or even a lot of it will be crap so that some or even a lot if it will be good and some may even be great, but keep writing. Also, I make my students do an exercise to consciously try to write badly. Three things usually happen when they do this. They use clichés and repetition, and go so far over the top with it that it becomes good. They notice that it is not easy for them to write poorly and thus, prove to themselves that they are better than they thought at writing well. They produce a great piece of comedy.
2. Get in Over Your Head
If you feel you are over your head and in a mess with your writing project, you might be exactly where you need to be. Taking risks is brave and will make you grow. You do want to challenge yourself. You can’t do that without feeling over your head. You need to go through it. 99% of what you do as a writer is process not product. It is a messy process and often an overwhelming process if you are truly challenging yourself. It is also a temporal art. Unlike the painter we cannot see the current whole in one view, we have to read and reread, write and rewrite. Wholeness is difficult to grasp, so being over your head is allowing the process to be what it is, a process before it is “declared” a product.
3. Read Bad Writing as well as Good
Reading bad writing reminds you what makes writing good. You will notice more about things to both avoid and include in your own work when you read bad writing, more so than when you are perhaps overawed by good writers. A good writer can freeze you into feeling too small and imperfect. This is ego and in your head. But also, when you are judging bad writing as bad, test how much is your judgement, notice where there is craft even in what you considered bad writing. Notice that you may have the notes to make something better. If it is really bad, give yourself permission to not finish it but be forever grateful of the experience, and then used that saved time to work on your own writing, gratefully.
4. Get Lazy
Writing can be work, hard work, but it needs to be half play too. If it isn’t we burn out. The muse likes your effort but if it is all effort and no play then the muse can get turned off too. Sometimes you need to walk away and get lazy. Don’t, for god’s sake, tell yourself you are having writer’s block. If you have been trying and it is not coming together that’s not writer’s block that’s pushing too hard. Take a walk. Consider those wonderful “Ah ha” moments, they happen at some other moment when you are laughing with friends, or generally goofing off.
5. Rearrange Your Writing Space
Have you put any effort into your private writing space? We cook in the kitchen. We sleep in the bedroom. We take care of our bathing and toiletries in that room. Do you have a writing space? Do you like it? Do you give yourself nice things to look at? Does it have light and a window? Writers need light as much as painters. Do you have some words that inspire posted in your writing place? Words that remind you of who you are? For years I had a question, “Do words change reality?” and a cartoon with a character that said, “If you want to say something smart, think of something really dumb and write the opposite.” I hope one day in the future to have the courage to take my desk and plunk it down in the best spot in the apartment or house and I won’t care if it is the living room or dining room or in an alcove at the top of the stairs.
6. Write in Other Places
After number five, this may seem like a contradiction, but you sometimes need to write away from your special designated spot and sometimes you have to. Writing in other places can mean other cities, other situations, maybe with someone else sitting writing across from you. Or, yes, it can mean in your local cafe or the cafe across town, or the cafe you always dreamed of writing at in Paris. Does it change your writing? Are you more inspired or less? I like writing retreats. I have been trying to figure out why I like writing in Mexico for years and I have lots of answers and none of them need to be real, I just need to know that it is a good place for me, but not the only place either. You should be able to write everywhere, so prove it already.
7. Go to Beginner Writing Classes
There is a famous, talented actor I know that went repeatedly to beginning acting classes long after his success, because the basics of any craft need to be renewed. Once they are ingrained it gives you a lot more freedom and ability to write without fretting. But, believe it or not, we forget things. So, don’t take the attitude of thinking there is nothing more you can learn or relearn. It is okay to learn again, and for some of us it is fun to share in a group. We are so often distant in time from our readers, that it is nice to share immediately, hot off the press in a writing class.
8. Don’t Write Everyday
I know lots of people say, write everyday. But, I bet even those people don’t. What they mean is have a writing discipline. Plan your writing days and your days off. When a project is getting to the wire, the deadline is nigh, or just when you are on a hot streak, you may well find yourself writing everyday to get it done. But not everyday, all the time. Know that this is true so that you don’t feel obsessively stupid, or not a writer when you are not writing. Remember you will have a process and a writing discipline. You can churn it out when you want to and need to.
9. List All Your Own Deepest, Darkest Fears
Especially when you are uninspired, go to your most vulnerable place. The places you don’t want to show the world. Peter Shaffer did not write Amadeus from the point of view of Mozart himself, but from his contemporary Salieri who was a mediocre composer. Shaffer said he did this because that was his deepest, darkest fear that he would just be a mediocre writer. Make a list of your own deepest darkest fears, about your writing, about your life, about anything and everything that makes you feel naked and vulnerable. Have you written anything about these yet?
10. Write Faster
I myself have come full circle, from writing fast so it was both practical and not fully finished, to slowing down and getting hung up on the details, to realizing that career writers need to write fast and edit (with help) later. Learning to write fast can be your best friend and it means you are not letting the perfectionist in you take the wheel but some other right brain gremlin that knows how to fly. You can learn how to write fast and well, but only if you let yourself write fast.
My final note is from the original blog post that I referenced: “Quit killing yourself trying to become a great painter and work relentlessly on becoming a badass editor” After you have written fast, you and your editor can have fun polishing BUT I think what Chris Gallego means is that you learn, to begin with, not to put everything and the kitchen sink in your work, you will streamline and that should be the goal to make your writing process efficient. If you focus on that, good will come, but you also need to focus on continually growing.
Let me know which ones serve you and how it goes.
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