A few months ago I attended a Poets & Writers Live event in Austin, Texas. The keynote speaker was Elizabeth McCracken, and she said, “Think about every bad price of writing advice and disagree so loudly you write a poem or fiction about it.” Her words served as a retort to the common writing advice, “write every day.” Directly following her keynote, Naomi Shihab Nye laughed that she chose to say this, when Nye would be teaching a workshop later in the day about exactly that: creating a daily writing practice. Two successful authors with two totally separate writing processes.
Today I’d like to give homage to the practice of daily writing, or what I call “The Quotidian Writer.” About a year ago, I was lucky enough to quit my non-writing job and work a shitty part-time one for a while until I finally (read: seven years after my undergrad) landed a job “doing what I like.” During that time, which I like to call My Broken Pocketbook Years, I spent my free time fussing over landing a job in the writing community, whether I could be called a real writer with no publications to my name, and thankfully, writing. And that last has made all the difference.
I started writing every day, as much as possible. Sometimes, this was fruitless (read: a lot.) When I managed to make it work, I astonished myself with what I could achieve. Now, as I juggle my career in writing with my career in the writing community, I am happy to report that I’ve established writing manners. I have things I hold onto about how I write. Writing as a habit transformed my life.
I’d like to address this to you—yes you—new writer who’s still figuring out this whole writing thing. I get asked a lot, what is your process? I get questions along the lines of, how often do you write? How do you outline your work? Do you write from experience or imagination? etc. These are all questions that really mean, am I doing it right? The answer I give every time is, this is how I do it, but every writer is different.
Subtext: Yes and no.
There is no wrong way to write, but I do believe in living as a writer. Trying new things. Trying out methods to see what works for you. Learning, being willing to learn (those are two dissimilar postures). Pushing the physical world away as long as possible, or necessary. Making sacrifices for writing. Experimentation. Openness. Honesty. The readiness to let go of whatever prejudiced notions you have about yourself and see what the other—the “shadow self”—desires. The shadow self is the writer part of you wanting to write at 3am and should not be ignored. It is the part of you bursting with ideas that need writing down. It’s a bit of a creepy bloke/dame/Mz, but that’s okay.
So if you feel your shadow self might be a daily writer, here we go. Here are several exercises intended to foster a daily writing practice:
These are just a few exercises to use in your daily writing. The key here is mindfulness and commitment. Developing a habit is hard. Writing is hard. But finding a way to live writing is gratifying, if it’s what you love. If you feel committing is hard, try taking a workshop instead. Give yourself goals, either via word count or via time, or via conferences or writing workshops attended. See what works for you, then do it.
Tell us in the comments: What's your writing process? What sticks? What doesn't?
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Holly Lyn Walrath is a freelance editor and author of poetry, flash fiction, and short fiction. Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath
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