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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writing Advice You've Never Heard Before!

How many times have you been told to "show, not tell," or that it's important to "write what you know?"
While these tried- and true- adages about writing are important, equally important are the tactics and habits that good writers develop unconsciously, and that thus often fail to make their way into any Beginning Writer's Handbook.

1--Turn off your ipod. Writing is about people—how they communicate, behave, and interact. You can only learn about people through observation, so rather than cranking the ipod when you’re on the subway, street, or bus, listen to people instead. Cultivate the fine art of eavesdropping, and of spying on people while pretending to be staring blankly into space. Go ahead and peep if you have to! Just don’t get arrested.

2--Go to therapy. You know how I said that writing is about people, and how they behave, speak, and interact? Well, it’s also about what they feel. And you’ll never have better access to feelings than to your own. You need to understand them, to think about what motivates and frightens you, what brings you happiness or provokes anxiety. So get a therapist! If you can’t afford a shrink, spend some time journaling your thoughts, or meet with friends for a good old heart-to-heart. Bonus? You’ll get closer with your friends.


3--Go stir-crazy. Imagination is a skill. Like any other skill, it can be strengthened through habit--and conversely, will run to seed if it isn’t exercised, like a butt that gets parked too often on a couch). Actually, butts and imagination have a lot in common: TV and endless web surfing takes a toll on each. It’s so easy, nowadays, to take refuge in worlds that have already been imagined for us—in books, movies, webisodes, cute kitten videos on Youtube. But that means that our own imaginative capacity never gets its workout. Power down the ipads, nooks, kindles, TV, and computers for a day, and feel that crazy, itchy, gotta-do-something-cuz-real-life-is-boring burn. Start daydreaming. Start fantasizing. Think yourself into different characters and different worlds.


4—Delete Angry Birds from your phone. Writing is hard. Writing often sucks. And unless you’re paid a gajillion dollars to write already, you’re probably trying to juggle writing while in school, or working, or popping out babies, or all of the above. There will always be many competing claims for your time and attention. But you know what? All of us—even the busiest among us--have five minutes here and there when we’re alone, and bored, and we surf facebook or start lobbing birds at various architecturally unsound structures. And instead of doing that, we should be writing. I wrote Before I Fall while commuting between a full time job, full-time graduate school, and part-time work at a nightclub. In spare moments on the subway or yes, in the bathroom, I typed paragraphs on my Blackberry, later emailing them to myself so I could cut and paste into a word doc. Two hundred words is better than no words. Forty words is better than no words—and if you have time to compose that pithy tweet, you have time to bang out forty words.


5--Be selfish. See entry #4. Right now, as you’re reading this, you probably should be doing something else: laundry, data entry for your boss, homework, calling mom. . .The list of obligations we’re all trying to juggle on a daily basis could fill a novel in itself (a really boring novel, but a novel nonetheless). It’s really hard to make time for writing, especially before you’ve been paid to do it; writing time usually comes dead last on a list on the list of Important To-Dos. But it shouldn’t. If you love it, it should be a daily part of your life. Period. Train yourself to value it above almost everything else except, I don’t know, peeing and eating. You can go without clean socks for a day—no one will notice. You can talk to your friends tomorrow or over the weekend. Writing is just as important as your homework. And take-out exists for a reason. Make time to write. Pretend you’re already getting paid for it, and one day you will be.


6--Take a humiliating job. I’ve worked in a variety of service jobs in my life I’ve waitressed at a rowdy Canadian bar in Paris where ex-pats liked to puke up their poutine in the bathroom; I’ve worked in swanky clubs where the patrons thought it was funny to insult the servers (when they weren’t trying to grab your ass). I’ve been called every bad name in the book—and some that aren’t in it—by leering, drunken a-holes with nothing better to do. And you know what? I’m glad. As a writer, you have to be prepared for hard criticism, rejection, and humiliation. You have to develop a thick skin, and a desire to persevere, even when you feel like crawling into a hole and putting a blanket over your head...preferably until you suffocate. So get your practice early. Toughen up. Get insulted. Get rejected and criticized. And let it roll off your back. That way, the first round of rejection letters won’t even phase you. Or the second. Or the third.

Bonus? You’ll have interesting backstory when you finally land that feature profile in the New York Times!


7—Develop a gym habit. This is strange, but half of my breakthrough ideas have occurred when I’m at the gym or taking a long run. I think it has something to do with relaxation: the brain, typically dominated by everyday concerns about bills, dinner, relationship issues, future plans, detaches from “conscious” worries, which permits the subconscious mind to start firing out ideas. If huffing on a treadmill isn’t your idea of relaxation, try yoga, or knitting, or something physical and repetitive that allows your conscious mind to “switch off.” Bonus? A hot body...or hand-knitted scarves for all your friends and fam at Christmas. :)


8—Shower more. You know how I said that half my breakthrough ideas have occurred when I’m exercising? The other half have hit me when I’m in the shower. (See above for my theories on relaxation and the unconscious mind.) So steam up your bathroom and soap up. Bonus? Your significant other will thank you!


Let me know what you think!


xLauren

38 comments:

Grace said...

1, 3, 4, and 5 are just the perfect advice for me. Thank you Lauren!

I love watching people, it's something I always find myself doing. I've started writing on my phone now ever since I met you at a book signing event here in the Philippines. You just inspired me and gave me a boost!! I don't know what the story is leading up to yet but I'll get there(I hope!).

-Eunice Xx

Heather M White said...

Great tips... I agree with the exercise and shower!!!

Also, I wrote my first book while working a 40 hour a week job. I know it's possible :)

untothehorizon said...

Hahahaha! This is just what I need to liven up my nerves. :-) This really does helps!! ;-)

Lynsey Newton said...

OMG the shower is a magical place! Love this advice Lauren, especially as you're right, it's not in the writing books ;)

coffeeandwizards said...

All of my best ideas happen in the shower or right before I fall asleep! These tips are great!

Jamie Krakover said...

I agree the shower is a magical place. Another place I get ideas is when I'm driving in my car. Inspiration always strikes in the two places its hardest to write things down.

Jamie Fox said...

Great advice! I especially love #6. Not only is a humiliating job great for your spirit, but it can also offer some great material. The art of observation is also underrated. Ideas and plots are all around us if we open up, listen, and pay attention.

Jen said...

I love your thoughts. I'm totally re-posting them and then going to live by them because my book needs to get itself to paper one of these days!

lizclong said...

Great advice! Love the eavesdropping idea. And the shower-love that it happens to everyone else, too! I've nearly broken an ankle scrambling out of the tub to get pen and paper :)

SeaShell said...

Very glad to hear it from someone who is making her name phenomenally huge in the business.
I should be also keeping tabs for some ideas that might pop out anytime of the day.
Thank you so much for this advice.
Inspiration, indeed!
I am holding my gears to experience #6!

Bethany Neal said...

Number 8 appeared on an ep of 30 Rock last week. "The Shower Principle" but I like #5. It just comes naturally to me ;)

Ainsley Shay said...

Best advice - EVER!!!! If we want it bad enough - we have to put it first!!!

Thanks!

~Mallary~ said...

Thanks for posting! Loved this. =)

Riv Re said...

Oh shoot. You're on to me. I go to a private school, so when a bunch of teens get on the subway, I subtly pause my iPod and listen in, pretending not to. Stalker much? Probably. At least I'm not taking notes...

Love the advice. Very sound. But #4 is probably the hardest...(Except it's Fruit Ninja. Because Fruit Ninja is awesome.)

Virginia said...

This was awesome! I wasn't going to click the link, because hey, I've pretty much read all the lists. But someone said '30 rock' and I was in. I get all my good ideas while doing dishes. My butt's still wobbly but my sink is usually clean. :D

And for jobs, I worked in a deli once where rich businessmen would order sandwiches with 12 changes to the menu item, take a bite, then return it because it was crap. Yeah, because you changed it, dude.

Hayley said...

Ding Ding Ding! We have a winner! #6!
Thanks for your post, Lauren! Before reading this post I never realized how well my current job is preparing me for my future one! Thank you for the enlightenment! It's fun to see a new take on the familiar WritingAdviceList. Have a good day!

ice-ridden said...

This is great advice!
Except the only problem with pretending you're getting paid to write is thinking you have magic money.

Cyndi Tefft said...

I couldn't agree more. Good stuff!

Jennifer Susannah Devore said...

C'est quoi, ces "Angry Birds"?

Worked at Disneyland and Neiman-Marcus (Newport Bch.) whilst in college; to date, I draw characters modeled on many of those in front of as well as behind our Orange Curtain :D

Salut a Tous,

Moi
www.jennypop.net

The Boyish Booklover said...

I love, love, LOVE this article!! This is seriously great advice that I've never read before (hoorah for a truth-bearing title!), and I cannot wait to practice it. First step: deleting Draw Something from my phone. ;) Thank you for taking the time to slap some reality on me!

Molten Notebook said...

Great advice! On trains, I like to pick a person and challenge myself to notice five or ten things. This stops me from thinking of them as just another tourist or suit or whatnot.

You probably know this already, but you were mentioned on one of the NY Times blogs today: http://nyti.ms/I8ks90. Sounds like a neat project!

sagelikethespice said...

I think that it's absolutely important to develop a gym habit, but for me, it's never been a place where I can plot. And I plot everywhere! But at the gym, I'm always counting or worrying about my form or hoping the next piece of equipment I need is free or listening to my instructor or concentrating on the music to get me through a hard workout. It's weird because I go in thinking it'd be a great place to work out an issue in a novel, and then I don't think about it once.

Valerie said...

Thank you Lauren. I'm at a measly 11K words right now, and I haven't even looked at it in over a month because of "life"...

amber d* said...

Love #7. I got out of the habit of going on walks, and this past week I've gone twice and instantly had great ideas to had to my WIP.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I love all the tips. They are all so true. And it inspires me to know you wrote your first book while working full-time and going to school. Because I'm doing it while working and taking care of family. It can be done. I just need to keep writing.

Kaye M. said...

I've heard the majority of these before, only worded differently, but it's still good to be reminded.

lizakane.me said...

Great list! Thank you for the reminder! Especially #4-->Aside from writing at spare moments, I also give up sleep in order to make my word counts.

Stephsco said...

YA Highway directed me over here. I like your list of advice, especially everything related to unplugging, regrouping and bucking up to just write, sans distractions.

Off to do that now...

Katie Edwards said...

Very wise writing advice, and realistic. Thank you :)

becauseimwrite.com said...

I love this. I've written entire chapters on my trusty blackberry while riding the train. I actually prefer it. I am essentially forced to write because I can't surf the web. Haha.

Great advice. Running stimulates so much creative thought for me. Glad I'm not the only. :)

mooderino said...

I blame the Internet! I used to get so much more done when I was in dial up.

new follower,
mood
Moody Writing

Jim Dean said...

Following some of these tips - especially number 4 - I got 11,000 words written yesterday. I think my previous record is 2000 or so.

Lauren, I think I love you. (In a 'person who gives awesome writing advice' way, obviously, not a 'creepy stalker' kind of way!)

Garota Imaginária said...

I loved your advice, I'll put them into practice! I already knew some of them, but now you inspired me to continue writing even more! And writing is really difficult, and time is sacred to me - right now I should be reading a college text, but I'm here!
From your biggest fan in Brazil!
- Thayris.

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