Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lestat Kept a Journal. So Should You.


I’ve noticed a dramatic change in my writing over the past six months, and while most of it is due to the wonderful advice I get from my critique partners, and mentor (Thank you Scott Johnson!!), I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve simply just been writing more. Every day since my last semester of graduate school, I’ve been forcing myself to set some time aside in the evening to churn out some pages. Some days I’m more fortunate than others, but nevertheless, I’m still creating. Go to any conference, or writing convention and authors and editors will tell you the same. In order to write well, you must write more. And then some.

The idea of writing every day probably sounds terrifying to most of you. You’re thinking, “I can’t do that. I have a family! A full time job! A life!” Well, let me assure that while in the beginning it’s no walk in the park, it can be done.  You’d be amazed at what you can accomplish in fifteen minutes if you really set your mind to it, and even if you don’t get as far as you would have liked, you've still managed to sit down and spend a few minutes creating. And the best part about this routine is that the more you practice it, the less it feels like work.  I know when I made this commitment to myself that the first couple weeks were really hard for me. I found myself making a lot of excuses, trying to find loopholes, and definitely walking my dog a lot more, but in the end, I realized that I was only cheating myself, not to mention my readers. Even now, I still think that the hardest part of writing is making yourself sit down in a chair and actually do it.

Now, if any of you are like me, I tend to get really frustrated when I sit down to write and spend all this time at my computer and in the end only have a couple hundred words to show for it. Talk about discouragement. What I’ve found is that constantly working on the same project all the time is just not healthy for me at this stage in my writing career. Mind you, I do spend the majority of my time working on my novel, but I also have a few side projects that I like to visit now and then when I need a break. Poetry is a great outlet, as well as flash fiction because you’re still creating stories, just on a smaller basis. For me, that’s very comforting when I’m working on a big project because it still allows me to produce fiction while simultaneously honing my craft.

Something else I would highly recommend is keeping a writing journal. Ever since I was little, I’ve kept a leather bound book next to my bed to jot down my daily goals, any frustrations I’m feeling, or any ideas that I’ve gotten throughout the day. This is especially useful for me during the night, because I tend to have horrific nightmares (almost nightly), and when I wake up, I immediately turn to my side and start writing everything down. This has made a world of difference for me throughout my career and most of my ideas have indeed come from my dreams. Pshh. No wonder I write horror.

Another example would be my Publication Workshop course that I took in college during my junior year of undergraduate studies in Literature.  I had a writing teacher (who I still work with) that gave all of us miniature notebooks to keep in our back pockets so that if we ever came across anything odd, interesting, or inspiring, we could write it down and use it for material later. At first, I was annoyed and felt a little silly carrying this thing around on me 24/7, but I was really surprised how much I used it, and now how much I rely on it. It’s amazing all the stuff that happens around us that we forget because we get caught up with life.  A journal is a great way to resolve that, plus even though you’re not technically working on a short story, or a novel, you’re still writing every day and that is what’s most important. You’ll not only start the journey to finding your voice, but you’ll find out pretty soon that those fifteen minutes you set aside, start turning to half hours, which inevitably then turn to hours. What you were once forcing yourself to do, is now a habit… and one that you enjoy more and more each time you sit down to write.  So grab your poison (mine is a cup of Hazelnut coffee), and a pen, and sit down and see what happens. I promise you… you’ll be surprised.