Tuesday, April 14, 2015

5 Essential Tips for Burgeoning Writers

The Basic Question:

What do writers need in order to be successful in their creative work?


 Location 

1. Finding your place to write is of utmost importance.  In  “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf stresses this requirement when she writes: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Of course, not all writers have the luxury of having money provided so that they can develop as writers. Many have to spend some of their time in gainful employment. She stresses that women must make a special effort to write because during her time (1882-1941), it was more common for men to develop into great writers. She successfully broke out from her historical confines and became known as one of the first modernist writers. During her lifetime it was the "man of the house" to have a private study. Her life struggle to become a writer of merit led her to understand that having a place to write means that you are giving priority to your work. Nevertheless, the logistics of being in one location and/or finding a room in a busy house can be frustrating. The author of Writing as a Way of Healing,  Louise Desalvo, explains that you can be more flexible and place a desk in a hall or in any room to provide yourself with a place that is your own. A writing location allows you to form a routine. It is the writing habit that provides you with the platform to grow. For many writers, it may be a local coffee house that creates a sense of place. Students often write at desks in their bedroom or on cushioned boards (or laptops) while still in bed. Some writers such as Jamaica Kincaid, author of the short story "Girl," the novel Annie John, and the essays, A Small Place (among others), continues with this technique.  She has comments on staying in bed and in her pajamas all day so that she can write - a routine that allows her to concentrate. Maya Angelou discovered her time management strategy through necessity since she had to travel so much to speaking engagements. She decided to make her hotel room her writing room. Her solution worked so well that she continued renting a hotel room for this very purpose. She said in an interview, "I do still keep a hotel room in my hometown, and pay for it by the month. I go around 6:30 in the morning. I have a bedroom, with a bed, a table, and a bath. I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, and the Bible."(Link to the full interview, The Daily Beast, "How I Write," Maya Angelou)  In this same interview, she explains that the room must have completely bare walls so as not to cause her any distraction, which demonstrates a significant degree of self knowledge. My writing room goes by the name of "the writing closet" because I store my clothes and write my secrets there. I visit the "closet" every morning. 

2. Self knowledge
Pensive Miss Junie

A writer should have some understanding of her personalized and unique path to writing or finding the muse. The discovery of your insight can be obtained by self-observation as you write. Through noticing your own process, when and in what circumstances trigger writing, allows you to develop as a writer.

3. Inspiration and Creativity 



Naranjito, Puerto Rico
 

Another strategy is to seek out writers you admire and read their works. Even though these writers may be personally inaccessible, it helps to have an image of a writer for inspiration. Through an internet search, looking for comments, blogs and writing workshops, a connection could be made with this author or other writers interested in moving forward with their own projects. 

Be ready to write. I am not alone in recommending that you keep a notebook handy (journal). Recently, in the two day "Student Research and Writing Conference" at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus, keynote speaker and author Luis Negrón (Mundo Cruel) emphasized that carrying a notebook to jot down writing ideas is important, "Relying on memory is a mistake because you think you will remember but you will forget!"

4. Feedback


Sunflowers in Ocean Park, San Juan, Puerto Rico
  


One of the most difficult aspects of writing is locating a trusted reader and receiving feedback. Often, we block feedback from others because we feel our creativity is at stake -  not an unreasonable fear. In fact, the wrong kind of criticism can shut down inspiration. The trick is to find someone you can trust and ask for the kind of feedback that might be useful. Reactions about specific writing areas are helpful. Readers questions and asking for clarity on certain meanings might be useful. Seek out readers who understand that you are developing a work, i.e., your writing is evolving. If your reader senses resistance and/or hostility, she may not be willing to read anymore of your work. That fact established, you do not have to make changes or do anything about the comments offered by readers. I rely on my own (flawed at times) judgment when it comes to sensitive revision and editing, but would love to find a reader (who also writes) to share in my process. Author Zadie Smith (White Teeth) recommends that you ".... try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would." Brave indeed!



5. Routine



Ocean Park beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico


Writers who consider writing a priority in their lives make time for it by establishing a routine. But that routine is highly specific to your kind of writer. Virginia Woolf scheduled a three hour morning routine while Maya Angelou stretched herself across the bed and maintained all day writing sessions. Louise Desalvo warns that you may not be able to find blocks of time in which to write. She suggests grabbing snippets of time (equaling three hours) throughout the day in her article, "Why Having Kids is No Excuse."

What matters to a writer is that you write. You continue to write throughout your days, perhaps feeling dissatisfied with your work but you continue. As Virginia Woolf said, 
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery...” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

 Give your writing a place in your life. If necessary follow Desalvo's advice, "Call it work, not writing. No one I knows cares if you’re writing.  That’s why you have to call it work.  Because that’s what it is.  Your work.  Your life’s work."