writing habits

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The Writing Zone

Published October 23, 2012 by Elsa Pla

Last week’s exercise was to write a reflection on our writing habits (the when, where, and how) and perhaps on how to improve them.

First, let’s look at what a few great authors have to say about the act of writing:

Stephen King compares writing fiction to a form of self-hypnosis and says that having a daily routine helps him fall into a trance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ELlianFnL0

John Gardner in The Art of Fiction calls that trance “the fictional dream”:

“In the writing state—the state of inspiration—the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols. The dream is as alive and compelling as one’s dreams at night, and when the writer writes down on paper what he has imagined, the words, however inadequate, do not distract his mind from the fictive dream but provide him with a fix on it, so that when the dream flags he can reread what he’s written and find the dream starting up again. This and nothing else is the desperately sought and tragically fragile writer’s process: in his imagination, he sees made-up people doing things—sees them clearly—and in the act of wondering what they will do next he sees what they will do next, and all this he writes down in the best, most accurate words he can find, understanding even as he writes that he may have to find better words later, and that a change in the words may mean a sharpening or deepening of the vision, the fictive dream or vision becoming more and more lucid, until reality, by comparison, seems cold, tedious, and dead.”

Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing describes it as a summoning of our subconscious creative muse:

What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.”

“It is a wise writer who knows his own subconscious.”

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

“What we are trying to do is find a way to release the truth that lies in all of us.”

I believe that the first step to developing a personal writing routine that allows us to access our creative muse is to identify and describe what’s happening in our minds when we write. For me, inspired creative writing occurs when I’m able to enter “the writing zone,” a term I’ve adopted from a fellow writing teacher. The experience is very similar to daydreaming, except that I’m not just imagining stuff, but also writing it down. When I enter the writing zone, I shut out everything around me, and I hyper-focus on the dream-world my subconscious is creating.

I tend to take an imagined scene and go over it and over it in my mind until it’s logical and pleasing to me. Because of that, I write slowly, constantly going back and changing things before I’m ready to move forward. (That’s why I’m not very good with quick-writes — my mind just doesn’t work that way.)

I talk to myself when I’m in this daydream state,  and I like to periodically read aloud what I’ve written — I find it helps me advance the story. I have the tendency to stay stuck — mesmerized — in a scene, but eventually I snap out of it. Because of these and other slightly embarrassing peculiarities (I’m sure all writers have their own), I work best when I’m totally alone.

I prefer to work in silence and by a window (I like to be able to look out at the trees and the sky). I may need a bit of background instrumental music to get me started, but once I’m in the zone, silence is best.

I get my best writing ideas when I’m showering or washing dishes, which is kind of weird. I also get ideas from dreams, but I forget them if I don’t write them down right away.

I’m a morning person; I work best in the morning (after sunrise) or in the early afternoon. My brain and my eyes are tired at night, and darkness makes me lazy.

As for process, my planning consists of lists of events (rising action, climax, resolution), character traits, and sensory details (I love lists). I also like to gather visuals to help me picture the setting and to get a feel for the mood. Then I work on the first draft (that’s when I enter the writing zone). I revise as I write, but I try not to get bogged down. When I’m done with the first draft, I start the revision/editing process. I read my paragraphs aloud, improve the sentence structure, choose better words, and add details and rhetorical devices. Then I go back, analyze what I’ve done, and take out the fluff. Once I’m satisfied with the product, I put the manuscript away for a few weeks. Then I bring it out and examine it critically (as a reader, not a writer). I get feedback from my #1 reader (my youngest daughter, who is also a writer) and revise/edit the manuscript one last time.

My one big problem is that I have the tendency to start stories and not finish them. In the past, the reason for this was not having enough time nor solitude nor mental fuel to finish the first draft. Now I have one day a week of alone time, which means that for several hours a week I’m able to enter the writing zone.

Here’s my weekly plan:

1- Guest-teach four days a week.

2- Revise manuscripts and work on website/blogs in the afternoons.

3- Read in the evenings.

4- Saturday: Focus on art and music.

5- Sunday: Spend time with family.

6- Non-guest-teaching day: Enter and stay in the writing zone for as long as I want to!

It would, of course, be wonderful if I could enter the writing zone 4-5 days a week, but that is not yet possible.

Halloween is coming up, so this week’s exercise will be dark. I’d like to identify, analyze, and imitate some of the elements of horror in Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry.

Talk to you next week. 🙂

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