To get back into regular writing

Dorothea Brande offers some advice on Becoming a Writer. There is much wisdom in the book, but one of the most helpful pieces of advice she offers is on page 74. How to learn to write with more ease.

The best way to do this is to rise half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can—and without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before—begin to write.

Write anything that comes into your head: last night’s dream, if you are able to remember it; the activities of the day before, a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically. The excellence or ultimate worth of what you write is of no importance yet. As a matter of fact, you will find more value in this material than you expect, but your primary purpose now is not to bring forth deathless words, but to write any words at all who are not pure nonsense.

I followed her advice yesterday morning (and this morning). I wrote for twenty minutes as I boiled tea in the early hours. When I got to editing my own book, I worked for two pleasant hours.

The advice to write first thing is given elsewhere, but Brande offers self-help for writers finding it hard to write.

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Guilty won't help me write more

Jessica Abel writes about self-forgiveness when missing a scheduled time to write: “Water under the bridge,” she calls it. Good advice, which hit home over the last two days.

Monday night I made a commitment to write every morning. Something I often do anyway, albeit not as much as I would like. Yesterday, I spent most of the day in bed with a bout of food poisoning. Today, I slept late. The last thing I wanted to do was write. By noon, I managed-two hours of revising. Should I try to make up for the time lost day yesterday? Or, should I feel guilty for missing my public commitment to write first thing? No. Writing is a long game. There have been days and weeks when I’ve had to stop writing. The trick? Get back and keep at it. My hope is that tomorrow I will be able to write firs thing. But, if not, I won't feel guilty. Guilty won't help me write more. A little self-forgiveness is a good idea.

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My 2017 Writing Challenge

Jessica Abel, the fantastic cartoonist, author, and teacher, is going to finish her book in three months. To make it happen, she's issued a public writing challenge to the Internet. I accept her challenge.

Finishing is hard, and I have a book due in a month. With Trump, a new semester, pesky grant applications, and life, my manuscript has stalled for a week or so and I’m behind schedule! Since I started out the book with a public writing commitment on January 1, 2016 #DiMoWriMo it seems appropriate to end where I began: With another public writing commitment.

Here goes: I commit to writing between 6:00 an 8:15 each morning, and whenever else I can fit in. My deadline: February 17, 2017. Expect daily Facebook and Twitter updates on my progress.

Follow along here, I'll post updates as I'm going along.

Want to join in? Add your name to Jessica’s FB post

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Writing Tip 11: Write short

Blaise Pascal, apparently, wrote in a letter in 1657: “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte,” or "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” The expressions, often misattributed to Mark Twain, means it is harder to write in a few words what could be written in a few pages.

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Writing Tip 10: When you think a text is ready, read it out loud to someone else

Many of these Writing Tips have been about how to get the energy and motivation to make writing a habit. I’ve had less to say on how to write well. I have some tips for that, too. 

One challenge that I have in revising is that when I read my words on a screen, my mind fills in the blanks: I read what should be there and not what is there. I skip words that don’t fit, and I add words that are missing. 

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Writing Tip 9: When you are not working, don’t

Guilt is a common experience of grad school: If you’re not working and thinking about “The Dissertation” or “The Essay” or whatever you feel like you should be. You feel guilty because your not 'working.' You think about ‘the writing’ all the time. You revise in your dreams. You worry you’re not working enough.

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Writing Tip 8: Figure out what works for you and do that

Writing is hard work. The first five minutes are often the most difficult. But, if there’s a deadline looming, a dissertation due, or a monograph months behind schedule, sometimes keeping at it is even harder. You’ll need some writing tricks to push through, especially when stopping while the going is good is not an option.

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Writing Tip 6: “Write a lot, and read a lot.”

When I did my Ph.D., I used to think anything that did not push my text was a case of—self-diagnosed—"thesis procrastination." Procrastination is many things, and it might be helpful, but my self-diagnosis was misguided. I was wrong because I included reading for pleasure in the list of what counted for procrastination. 

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