August 13, 2017 by Nathaniel Tower
I haven’t written much lately, at least not personally. Most of my day is spent writing in an office which may explain, at least in part, why I’ve forsaken my fiction and personal blog writing so much as of late. I can easily fall back on the “I’m tired of writing” or “I don’t have anything left to write” excuses. But I don’t want to do that anymore.
It’s been almost six months since my last blog post. I’ve only submitted one piece of fiction so far this year, and it was rejected in less than a day. I’ve written fewer than 10,000 words of fiction in the past 20 months, and I’m only close to that number because of a brief hot-streak I had a few months ago when I was super motivated and pounding out over a hundred words of drivel per minute, none of which resulted in anything in terms of publication.
So maybe it’s time to remind myself how to write. I guess I technically don’t need the reminder since I write all day, but I’m going to give it to myself anyway. And maybe this will remind everyone else out there who’s struggling to write.
But before I get into my seven-step how-to guide, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: this has nothing to do with writer’s block. This isn’t about not knowing what to write about or not being able to make the words come out or any other definition of writer’s block that might exist. This is simply about needing a reminder of what it means to be a writer—which, of course, means you have to write.
Okay, now for the seven-step guide.
Step 1: Create Your Writing Environment
This could be anything. It could be a quiet room. It could be your basement with the stereo on full volume. It could be a secluded park bench overlooking some damn ducks struggling to digest hunks of Wonder bread tossed to them by some careless assholes. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s an environment that’s conducive for you to write. You know where you can and can’t write. Go to one of the places you can.
Step 2: Open Your Favorite Writing Medium
Maybe you like using a spiral bound notebook. Perhaps you have a typewriter. Maybe you tell your phone what to type for you. Maybe you bought one of those fancy programs specifically for writers that’s supposed to remove distractions and help you organize your plot and characters. Maybe you use Microsoft Word, or Google Docs, or fucking Notepad. Whatever you use, just open it. Resist the temptation to open anything else unless you need something else to help you write (e.g. your favorite music player). Stay the hell away from social media. That shit doesn’t help anyone write.
Step 3: Decide What You’re Going to Write
You don’t need a complete plot outline in front of you (although it might help if that’s the sort of writer you are). You just need an idea. It could be as simple as, I’m going to work on this novel that’s been sitting on my harddrive for six years. Or maybe it’s, I had this great idea for a short story about talking carrots. I’m going to finally write that and let those carrots’ voices be heard. It could even be, Man, I want to write some fucking haiku about bird shit on my car. Whatever it is, decide what you’re going to write. Not feeling particularly creative today? Too bad. You already did the first two steps, so you better not quit now. If nothing else pops into your head, then just write a shitty-ass blog post about how to write.
Step 4: Start Writing
Don’t wait for the perfect first line to come to you. Perfect first lines come much later. They may even be the last thing you come up with. You just need to start writing. Let the story about the talking carrots flow from your fingertips. It doesn’t matter what the first word is. Hell, you can even start with, “This is a story about talking carrots.” You have to start. Once you start, something else will follow.
Step 5: Keep Writing
You’ve written twenty sentences already. Isn’t that good enough? Maybe. But probably not. You need to keep writing. Have you come to the end of your story? That’s fantastic! Now go back and read it over. Editing and revising are part of writing. The important thing here is that you keep doing writerly activities until you’ve satisfied your writing desires.
Step 6: Take a Break
Maybe you have to pee. Or maybe you finished your story and read it over a couple times and need to give it a rest before you decide it’s utter shit and needs to be fed to the circling turkey vultures. Or maybe you’re hungry or you have to meet someone for drinks or you are just fucking tired of writing. Whatever the reason, take a break. Breaks don’t kill you. Breaks can replenish your creative juices. Your break can be a few minutes, a few hours, or even a day or two. Just make sure the break isn’t a permanent hiatus. It’s just a break.
Step 7: Do It All Again
Break’s over. Time to write again. Go back to the first step. Don’t feel like writing today? That’s fine. Take a little more time. But you can’t put it off forever, not if you want to be a writer. You eventually have to come back and do it again. You have to write.
I acknowledge that there’s nothing earth shattering about this blog post. There wasn’t a single original idea here, not even the haiku about bird shit on the car. And the writing wasn’t that great either. It didn’t matter. I wrote something. I wrote damn near 1,000 words. And you know what? It made me want to write something else. I hope it made you want to write something too.