As writers our most basic and essential tools are our mind and body, and this is why, before we get into the dos and don’t of writing, the most basic advice I, or anyone, can give you when it comes to your writing is to take care of yourself. Easier said than done, some will say and, in truth, they would be right; when you’re stressed and pushed for time and you have deadlines to meet and a social life you want to pursue it can be very hard to slow down. Burn out is a real danger, however, and it can be highly debilitating for much longer than you would imagine.
Here are the top five things you should do every day you write as a matter of self care, and professionalism;
- Eat breakfast; if you run your writing like a day to day job you should do what you would usually do before going to the office. Brush your teeth and hair, wash your face, eat breakfast, and take a few moments to yourself before beginning.
- Warm up; stretch your muscles, roll your shoulders, and flex your hands before you sit down to work. On the mental side of things, don’t throw yourself directly into the toughest challenge you have, or the most stressful deadline. Take five minutes to write anything that comes to mind. I do this by hand, but you can use a computer if you wish. Set a timer and just write until it goes; this exercise is both freeing and stimulating.
- Stop for lunch; in fact you should aim to take a ten to fifteen minute break at least once every three hours. Your mind is a physical thing, too, and it needs rest and fuel as much as any other part of your body.
- Stay hydrated; fill a large (2 litre/half gallon) bottle or jug of water and make sure you drink it all throughout your working day to ensure that you stay hydrated and efficient. The benefits of this will spill over into your every day life, too.
- Knock off early; this doesn’t just mean getting enough sleep, though this is key; it means ensuring you have a few hours to yourself (where you are not writing) before you go to sleep. If you find yourself in a cycle of eat-sleep-write-repeat you will burn out.
No-one is a born writer; people are born creative, imaginative, and intelligent, but writing is a craft and a skill, not a talent. Some people may have a natural head start, but hard work will bring even the rustiest of writers up to scratch. This doesn’t mean writing story after story, however, but rather the intelligent seeking of your flaws and active attempts to address them. Here’s what you need to be prepared to do;
- Read; read everything. Read books on the craft, read fiction, read non-fiction, read newspapers. As Stephen King once said, “if you don’t have the time to read, then you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”
- Push your boundaries; write styles, situations, and from points of view that make you pause. If you don’t have enough knowledge seek it out. You may never write in that style or from that POV again, but you’ll have grown for doing it once, and from doing it properly.
- Accept criticism; especially from those who a) read the genre you are writing in alot, or b) work in the publishing industry.
- But know when to reject it; writing is a uniquely personal endeavour. Listen to all criticisms offered, but do not swallow them all. If you disagree, then stick to your guns. Time will prove you write or wrong, but no endeavour is wasted; every day, as they say, is a school day.
- Write; “it’s that easy, and that hard” as Neil Gaiman said.
Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury
On Writing: a memoir of the Craft – Stephen King
The elements of Style – William Strunk
Fiction (recommended due to unusual or polished style as well as good/strong stories and structures);
The Yellow Birds – Kevin Powers (evocative descriptions)
Feathered Serpent – Xu Xiaobin (beautiful writing style)
Weaveworld –Clive Barker (horror done well.
The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie (very good for characters)