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Ever since I politely vowed to never reveal my writing secrets publicly (only the habits of other, more famous writers), I was flooded with emails from blog readers who begged me to reconsider. Then, after reading Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk, I realized that sharing at least a few helpful pointers probably might turn out to be a good thing after all.
Let’s go back to 1998 for a moment because this year was a major turning point in my writing career. By this time, I had been writing for quite a few years, and had just gotten one of my poems published officially that summer; The Tree of Life.
I’m reminded of course of how teachers always made us write outlines before we actually started to write anything. Later, in my senior year of high school, my English teacher allowed us to ‘graduate’ into the more modern and refined methods of concept mapping, which today is known as mind mapping.
I absolutely despised wasting precious and valuable time trying to conceptualize my ideas into a drawing instead of simply writing them down. To my high school English teacher, this was unacceptable. Whenever it was possible, I would write, sometimes for hours at a time, then draw a complicated, haphazard, almost incomprehensible concept map above the first line of my writing to give the illusion that I had followed his directions exactly. I often wonder who does this nowadays, relying on outlines, plans, and drawings? Certainly not me, my time is better spent writing, not wasting time pre-planning what I want to write.
On a side note, I had a college English professor chastise me for using concept mapping instead of the older line-by-line outline, despite the fact that he was at least 20 years younger than my high school English teacher. So much for progress.
Up until sometime in November of 2008, I always wrote in composition books I paid $1 for at the college bookstore. They were, at the time, the only notebooks I could afford. These days I’m flat-out addicted to writing only in the pages of my Moleskine notebooks, preferably under sun or candle light, and of course only with a smooth-writing gel pen.
So far, I’ve detailed a few of my writing habits and how I prefer to write (pen and paper, no outline, sunlight and/or candle light). Where I write depends on a multitude of factors. Most of the time I sit at my kitchen or living room table, but I have written in my notebook in some very unusual places. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from being a writer is to always have ones notebook handy whenever possible. When inspiration hits you, it almost never hits while one is at their favorite writing spot. My solution is to carry my notebook with extra pens with me everywhere I go in an engineer bag I purchased years ago at an army/navy store.
Finding time to write is perhaps one of the greatest challenges to an aspiring writer. Our modern chaotic and sometimes over-scheduled lifestyles often leave little or no time for writing, which is why a lot of freelance writers like myself employ creative solutions to ensure that our writing does not get neglected. With a little creativity and imagination, even the busiest of people can find time to write.
Another challenge to overcome for many writers is inspiration. Just like an artist must be inspired to create art, a writer must find inspiration to write. The main reason we see so many abandoned blogs on the Internet is because the people writing them either lost interest in writing altogether, or simply could no longer tap into their main source of inspiration. I’m one of the lucky ones who is able to draw some inspiration from my daily life as well as past experiences. I’m also a habitual note-taker; I take notes on my life experiences, things I’ve learned, facts and figures I find interesting, etc. While my notes might not make sense to anyone else, they are a way for me to record my daily life experiences and are in some ways a major source of inspiration. I have written a collection of writing prompts to help myself as well as others through inspirational dry spells.
Perhaps my best kept writing secret is to form a writing habit. Not all habits are bad, such as smoking, fingernail biting, etc. A writing habit is where one devotes themselves to writing, usually on a daily basis. For example, every night before I go to bed, I will typically spend 2 to 3 hours reading and/or writing in my notebook. Alternatively, I will write in my notebook out of boredom or as a replacement to idle time. I’m also the kind of person who, when camping, will get up with the birds (literally just past sunrise) to write. And yes, I’m the guy at the museum taking notes in front of exhibits. Some habits can be worth forming and can actually turn into creative and productive endeavors.
One last thing. Everything I’ve said here could be wrong. Write from your heart, not for commercial gain.