Why I Write

I saw another blog recently on this topic, and thought I’d add my own slant. Why do writers write? The simple answer, of course, is that we write because we can’t stop.

The more complex answer is that nobody really knows why some of us seem to be born storytellers. We’re the ones who watch the world, not to study it scientifically, but to weave tales out of it. We take the stuff of our lives and spin it out in different colors to amuse and educate our fellow humans.

I started telling stories as soon as I was old enough to realize that I could get the attention of the adults around me in such a fashion. I memorized jokes and riddles and even humorous stories to trot out at the dinner table, or share with friends of my parents. I don’t remember the exact moment I understood that I didn’t have to parrot such things, that I could write my own stories, but once I started, I wasn’t able to stop.

As with most young artists, my first works were copies of what I was reading or watching at the time. Today they call it fan-fiction. It’s a good way to learn how to write (or paint, or sculpt). You can see what works in a story and what doesn’t. The characters and universe are already invented, and if you pay attention, you can see how the original author lays out a plot or creates believable dialogue.

Studying the work of the masters is something all successful writers do, even after they start selling their own work. I read Westerns and mysteries, not only because I enjoy the tales, but also to see how other authors handle their ideas. The only problem with being a writer is that you really notice the mistakes another writer makes, whether it’s shoddy research or poor editing. But usually, you learn a lot by studying the way they write.

I haven’t been able to stop writing, even after all these years, because I never seem to run out of story ideas. Anything that happens to me, anything I see or hear or otherwise experience, can trigger a “what if?” moment. What if that “road rage” temper tantrum from the guy in the car behind me was directed at someone who was actually an alien pretending to be human? What if someone from the past could see a smart phone? What if Chance loves experimenting with exotic food, but Kye is a meat-and-potatoes man? There’s no end.

I have no more idea why I am compelled to tell stories than why one of my best friends is compelled to draw, and another is compelled to study physics. There’s something hard-wired into the human mind that needs to tell and hear stories. We’ve been sitting around swapping tales since we learned to talk – and who’s to say that other primates, or maybe the cetaceans, aren’t storytellers right along with us?

How I Write

People ask how I write. I tell them with a pen in a journal.

I really don’t have any set rituals for my writing. Sometimes I do write with pen and journal, especially if I’m going out to a place where my laptop would be too cumbersome, like the doctor’s office or a restaurant. Usually, though, I’ve either got the laptop or at least the iPad with me. I put up with the weight of the former in order to have Scrivener and all of my research material readily at hand. The iPad is lightweight, but doesn’t have the storage capacity of the laptop and Pages isn’t quite as satisfying as Word to me.

When I’m at home, I write in my office, which is a cluttered room full of books and papers (along with some of my craft stuff that I don’t have space for in the bedroom). The desk is in one corner. I keep my research books on the shelf to the left of the desk, and the writing manuals on the bookshelf to the right. The desk itself is usually stacked with research material: books, magazines, clippings, and such. I also have two cork-boards, but I often forget to post the clippings onto those.

I’m not very disciplined, I’m afraid. I’m not one of those writers who gets up at sunrise, sits down, and cranks out three hours of work before their day job. I’m lucky to get in thirty minutes before work; I’m just not a morning person. I try to get in another thirty minutes or more before bed on the days that I work (12-hour days take a lot out of you).

When I first get up, I have to wait for the caffeine to kick in, so I check my email and reply to anything needed. Then, I check Facebook and post something for my readers. I post a writing prompt every day on Twitter, so I do that next, and then my electronic “chores” are done. After that, depending on my caffeine levels and whether or not I have to go to work, I either get down to writing or check WikiAnswers and get in my monthly quota as a supervisor. If I’m off work at the day job, I usually try to get in a blog post.

I started out trying to write the novel in chronological order, proceeding neatly from Chapter One to the end. This gets tough sometimes, so when I started this final edit I also started skipping around. If I get stuck on one chapter, I just move to another one and rework that one until whatever idea I need for the previous one comes to me. I’m still making progress; it’s just not linear progress.

I get ideas at odd times, too. Sometimes I’ll have a vivid dream that finds its way into a story. Sometimes a stray comment strikes a chord, or something I see on the streets may inspire me. And sometimes things just hit me. I ask a lot of questions, too. “What if Emily decides to use her new reporting skills to investigate the lads?” “What if Ned is obsessed with ‘just the right way’ to go about housekeeping?” “What would Kye think if Chance lets Agent Kirkham have some of the money from the Union Pacific job?”

I suppose you’d say my writing habits are as eclectic as I am. I bounce around, working on this part or that and coming up with ideas in the middle of the night. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire, with Facebook, Twitter and this blog, and I’m hoping to add an email newsletter once I get a good enough following. I’ve got the sort of ADD personality to handle this, however; my style certainly won’t work for everyone.

The important thing, when you’re working on a piece, is to keep writing. If you can’t work every single day, work as often as you can. Practice makes perfect, and every step you take brings you closer to the end. It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re in the middle of the thing, and it looks as if you’ve got so much ahead of you that you’ll never finish. I’ll be talking about ways to stay positive in a later column. For now, the take-away message is: write, write, and write some more.

5 Ways to Keep Your Writing On a Roll

It’s easy to write when the words are flowing, when ideas just seem to leap from your mind into your fingers. It’s not so easy when you sit facing the empty page, second-guessing every word and feeling like deleting the entire work. Here are five tricks to help get your writing back “on a roll.”

 

  1. Write every day. You’ve heard it over and over – and it’s true. If you write something daily, whether you feel like it or not, it gets to be a habit, and your brain expects it. That’s when it starts coming up with the good stuff on a regular basis, not just “when the muse strikes.”
  2. Write anything. Sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself when you expect to finish a work without stopping. When you get stuck, switch to some other project and work on that. So long as you’re writing, it doesn’t matter so much what that writing is, at least until you get into the habit of writing on a roll.
  3. Free-write. Set a time limit – say, ten minutes to start out – and write whatever comes into your mind. If you think “this is stupid,” then write that down. Don’t try to make a coherent story. The idea is just to learn how to write without stopping.
  4. Exercise. No, not physically, though that does keep you healthy and help the overall writing process. Writing exercises are short assignments, and they can help you get into the habit of writing. If you have trouble thinking of topics, writing exercises and prompts can give you a needed boost.
  5. Stop editing. Many writers fall into the trap of editing as they write, which delays the work and gets very frustrating because you never seem to reach the end. Just get everything down first, then you can go back and edit after you’ve finished.

 

Remember that writing is like any other craft: you must practice in order to improve. If you wait for some mystical muse to light a fire within you, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Learn to depend on yourself for inspiration, and your writing will benefit.

What are some tips you’ve learned that keep you writing?