Friday, July 8, 2011

The Seven Healthy Habits of Happy Writers

“I’m not happy, Bob. Not happy.” (Name this movie in the comments!)

Want to be a happy writer? Some days this seems like an impossible task. Writing is hard, that’s for darn sure, and it seems like the moments of creativity and inspiration are few and far between. Want to know how to feed that muse and keep the work coming? Here are the top seven tips:

1. Don’t Procrastinate

Watching that deadline creep up stinks. Watching it pounce and devour you whole is even worse! The best way to avoid sloppy work and last minute late nights is to pace yourself. Nobody wants to create crappy work, let alone publish or sell it. Give yourself a few more days than you think you need to be sure you have plenty of time to get everything done. You never know what’s going to happen, and it’s always best to be prepared.

Set a pace for yourself and stick to it. If there’s a certain time of day in which you work best, set aside that time as writing time. Be sure you don’t overwhelm yourself, though, and give yourself the occasional day off. Sometimes writing when you’re tearing your hair out just isn’t doing any good, and it can’t be helping your hair either. I write two pages in my novel everyday, but I allow myself the occasional break on weekends and holidays. I write during the same time (on the bus, about the only time I can spare), and it works for me! Find the time, place, and pace that will work for you.

2. Write Down EVERYTHING

And when I say everything, I mean everything! Jot down all those moments of inspiration, whenever they come. Make sure you have an organized folder or notebook for all your ideas. I use a document on my laptop so I can copy and paste. It’s also a good idea to keep a notepad beside your bed for all those random tidbits that hit you in the night. I can think of many times when I’ve lost ideas that had potential just because I was too tired to walk across the room. These habits are good to have for all those ideas that come at you unexpectedly. You never know where brilliance will strike! And one of the keys to being a great writer is being observant. Pay attention to conversations overheard or beautiful scenes that take you in. Write these things down. I also find the more that I’m working on one project, the more my subconscious works on it, too. I’ll have ideas come at me from nowhere, and I’ll be frantically grabbing a pen, scribbling to get the ink running, and getting down the idea before I forget it. Some thoughts I end up using, some I don’t, but it’s always nice to have them stored.

3. Outline

Some people will cringe at this one, and I concede that outlining may not be for everyone, but it sure works for me. Outlining will save you loads of time and make the writing process easier during that first rough draft. I’ve outlined my entire novel, and I make an outline of every post, article, or paper that I write before I start that introduction. That way, once the pen’s on the paper or the fingers are on the keyboard, you know exactly what you’re going to say and the directions you’re going to take. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your outline if inspiration strikes (note previous tip), but it’s always a good idea to have a roadmap of where you’re going.

4. Work in a Stress-Free Zone

This may be one of the hardest habits to meet, for, if you’re not a full-time writer, you may write only whenever you can squeeze a moment in. If you have the option, however, it’s a great idea to find a comfortable time and place to write. Working on a piece with friends or strangers looking over your shoulder may put the pressure on and freeze up your words, so write in a place that’s relaxing for you. Go to your corner with a cup of cocoa and a favorite pillow, and type away. Play music while you write, if it’s not too distracting, to make it fun. If you’re writing a dramatic scene in your novel, play the Lord of the Rings soundtrack to help you feel the moment. Inspire yourself with your surroundings.

5. Make Time for Yourself

At first glance, this habit may not seem like it has much to do with writing, but believe me, it does. Writing while under stress only amps up the difficulty level, and everyone needs a break. Don’t beat yourself up if the words aren’t flowing. Take a walk or a hike, watch a movie or read. These activities are relaxing and rejuvenating, and you may just find that once you go back to your writing, the ideas flow.

6. Write About What You Love

This habit is a sure method of getting ideas going and never losing the passion for writing. If you’re writing about something you love, you probably know a lot about the subject or are excited about learning more. This will give you endless material from which to draw ideas. Writing what you love keeps the fun in writing, and you won’t have to drag your feet to come back to projects. I love Molecular Biology, Fantasy, and writing, so these are the things I choose to write about.

7. Go Easy on Yourself

This is the final tip and perhaps the most important. To keep those ideas coming and to keep yourself a happy writer, it’s important not to beat yourself up. The muses hate that. There’s no way ideas are going to grow out of ground that’s wilted! Give yourself compliments on your writing and allowances when it’s not as good as it could be. Remind yourself of your successes, and keep on polishing. If you struggle to compliment yourself, have someone who loves you dole the praise out. This can be a great self-esteem boost and another motivation to get back to that piece you were wrestling that got you down in the first place. There’s nothing worse than losing confidence and freezing up at the keyboard.

These things, I have found, are the best ways to ensure that you’re a happy writer. Don’t take my word for it; try them out! And remember, a happy writer is a productive writer, and that’s what we’re all aiming for. Even on the days when we don’t feel like superheroes… Now, what was that movie?

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