Monday, June 13, 2011

Honoring your own rhythms and style of working

I lead writing support groups, helping writers get started, get going, stay going, get finished. And in two of the groups, we've had conversations lately about finding your own style of working. We creatives are often looking outside ourselves for formulas that will work, and there are plenty of them. We may read that successful authors like David Huddle or William Stafford write/wrote from 4 to 6 am before his family gets up and he goes to work as a college professor. And we try it for a week, cursing the alarm and nodding off over the laptop, and we feel a failure. Or we hear that another author writes every day right after her day job and is putting out novel after novel. But we always go to the gym right after work--it's our only time for exercise. And so we've failed again.

Conventional wisdom says write an hour a day. Write early while you're fresh. But what if an hour a day isn't enough of a time period or an hour in the early morning is hard to come by?

I believed for a ridiculously long time that I was not a real writer and wouldn't ever be one because I didn't write every day in the early morning. But I have a series of well-honed routines in the morning for my spiritual practice and I don't want to change them. They were hard enough to put into place.

Then I began to realize that I just needed to find my own way. My drawing teacher Phil Sylvester often repeats one of his principles: Do whatever makes you want to keep drawing. And that's what I try to do. Do whatever makes me want to keep writing.

Here's what I do:
1. An average of 3 Fridays a month, I write for 5 hours with others in my home.
2. About every 3 months, I spend most of a week on a writing retreat with others. We find an affordable retreat location or rental house and share expenses. We write for 5-6 hours a day in silence but in each other's company.
3. I keep outrageous projects going, challenges to myself. Currently I'm writng 100 one-page fictional bits from prompts (a suggested word or phrase). My end date is Labor Day and I need to write one a day. But I don't. Instead, I write 2-3 several times a week.

Doing this, I've written a lot of poems, a lot of prompts, and two novels in the last 3 years. It's what works for me. What might work for you?

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jill,

    I so needed this reminder today: do what works for you. Trust that you will achieve something that matters to you by setting up the conditions that you realize are supportive for YOU. I, too, have struggled with trying to make other people's routines and advice work for me. Recently, one of my favorite comic book writer/artists said, "There's about a million different ways to do something -- and that's what's so great about being human!" I love that! I think I'm shaking off the culture of my childhood, which said there was always only one right way to do something -- to do it well, anyway.