Today, instead of a story, I thought I’d write about the importance of writing every day. Writers hear this advice often, but without a why or a means to do that when the words just won’t come.
Busy is one excuse writers give for not writing, but never has a day gone by when I couldn’t squeeze in a paragraph locked in a bathroom with a pen and paper if I needed to. Hold yourself accountable, put your feet against the door to keep the toddlers (metaphorical and otherwise) out, and get some words down. Do this for yourself, and do this for your work. You’ll feel your powers of expression get stronger in just a few weeks.
I keep myself to a hard schedule. I expect myself to write a minimum of so many thousand words per month. This works for me. To meet my goal, I need to write every day without exception. This has also taught me that I write my best when I write every day. I don’t have to hunt for the right phrase to say what I want to say or pause to catch an elusive word; they are all right where they should be, on the page. They’ve been trained. The ideas flow in thoughtful progression and I don’t get stuck on what should happen next.
This doesn’t mean that I, or even any other writer who insists on writing every day, has some brilliant story to work on every single day. Oh, no, no, no, no. Some days are the hair of the dog, days when the words are venomous and cruel and the last thing I want to do is fight with them. Other days I am feeling so profoundly discouraged that working on a story would flavour it with an inappropriate darkness. Those days I put the stories aside, and find other work to do. Exercises to do.
One of my favourite exercises is to click onto google search and find people. National Geographic is a treasure trove of interesting faces in situations which grab hold of a writer’s imagination. The trick is to find one which fascinates you to the point that it feels like a delight to write about her/him. Take, for instance, this gentleman (photo credit: Andrey Pavlov, via National Geographic):
His story leaps out of the photograph, unique to the viewer. First, describe him. Get to know his face as you paint it with words, and as his life unfolds, allow your imagination to build his world, the details of his life. What begins as description moves into a character sketch and perhaps it will grow into something else as well. The point is letting go and allowing the words to guide you, of honing the writing instinct and finding your voice as you tell someone else’s story.
Writing about people in other cultures is a delight. It feels like play to slip out of my own comfortable culture for a while and feel life anew. You may not understand every detail of how that culture works, but this doesn’t matter for the exercise. You can research later if you want to publish, or he can live on an alien world if he needs to. This is writing. You can make it work. For now, just write.
When you’re done you have something – and someone – new. You have a character that has been developed, waiting until a story comes along he’ll fit into like he was meant to be there all along. Perhaps the story you’ve created is compelling enough for a unique work of its own. Or maybe you’ll never use him again, but you still got some writing in on a day that may have gone to waste. You practiced and you wrote today. And I bet you even had a little fun.
Good luck writers, I can’t wait to read you,
P.S. What sort of tricks do you have to make the words flow on the bad days?