This last week, I sat down with one of my writer friends at a coffee shop.
We talked for a long time. About everything. Movies we like, story problems, agents and publishers, and life in general.
It was wonderful.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to really sit down and have a heart-to-heart with another writer. I forget, sometimes, how incredibly similar we are—and yet how wildly different we can be. As I mentioned last week in this post, no two writers ever have exactly the same routines, inspirations, or methods for digging up their fantastical stories. We’re each unique, and our writing process is uniquely ours. It’s tailored to our hearts and our stories, and no one can tell us exactly how it works.
So what happens when we just . . . don’t have it yet?
Honestly, this is something that writers of all ‘stages’ struggle with. When you start writing, no one hands you a ‘how to’ pamphlet or gives you a map of your own brain that shows just where the stories are hiding and how best to lure out a stubborn plot point. Even an experienced writer, with years of practice behind them, can get thrown off by a scheduling change, a new story that refuses to be written the way the others were, or even their own growth as a person. Something that worked for you five years ago, or even five months ago, may not work any longer. Editing routines, daydreaming to plan your story, writing routines, and even something as simple (or complicated) as finding time to write can seem impossible when you’re not sure quite how best to approach it.
Again, no one can tell you how your brain works, how to spark your own creativity, or how best to create your own routine. But, if you’re stuck and not sure how to begin to develop a process—either for the first time or after years of using the same routine—here are five tips that might help.
1) Allow yourself room to explore.
Take some of the pressure off of your writing for a while. Experiment. Try things that may not work, like rising an hour earlier to get some extra writing time in, or taking walks with some of your favorite music to plan out the next chapter or plot point you’re going to be working on. Visualize your story with drawings or post-it notes, or try reading chapters that you’re supposed to edit out loud to see if that helps you catch mistakes.
Journal with your characters. Ask them questions.
Have a board on Pinterest that is devoted to ideas for your story.
Try pantsing it. Let your characters run wild, and let the story tell itself. See what happens!
Try outlining every detail with a cork board and index cards.
The point is, be adventurous and go a little wild! You never know what might work for you.
2) Ditch the routines that don’t work for you.
There is no set method. If it doesn’t work, dump it. Throw it out the window. No regrets.
If rising early leaves you groggy and uninspired, don’t do it. Try something else. Give it a week or so, or even just a couple of days, and if it’s not lighting a fire under your words, then dump it. The last thing your story needs is a forced routine that gives you no joy and results in nothing but wooden words.
3) Take note of what others are doing.
Check out ideas on Pinterest, or ask around on Twitter. I’m sure you would find a whole load of writers who would love to share their routines and give you some tips.
Take what they say, and sort through it. Copying another writer’s routine probably won’t work for you, but their experiences can give you some hints. Ditch what you don’t like, and file away the tidbits that sound relaxing and inspiring. Take nothing as gospel, but be open to trying new things. Who knows, you may stumble across something that works for you!
4) Give it time.
Writing is all about the journey. You can’t write a book in a day, and you definitely can’t slide into a new routine in a day either. Allow it to change, to fluctuate, and to grow with you. Remember the things that helped, and do them often, even if they’re a bit of work and time.
5) Don’t overthink it.
You don’t need a complex routine to call yourself a writer. You need a story, and you need to sit down and write. So do what is comfortable, do what inspires you and helps you focus, but don’t latch onto practices that you don’t feel you need, simply because they are ‘popular’ or someone told you that you should be doing them.
You are a writer.
You know your stories.
You know yourself.
What fits you, what fits your lifestyle, and your story is what is important. Not a checklist that someone else thinks is vital for your routine.
Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.