“Now I felt excited when I sat down to write. Each chapter was an act of discovery rather than an act of manipulation.”
(Natalie Goldberg “Thunder and Lightning, Cracking Open The Writer’s Craft.)
- The Thrill.
Every time I sit down to write I feel a little bit excited. I am diving into the unknown, the world of my mind and imagination and it is thrilling. So my first tip would be to first of all focus on the pleasure you gain from writing, playing with language, plot and character and of course your own unique imagination.
- Stay in the moment
When you are writing don’t worry about the end product try to stay focussed on what you are writing in that very moment, and don’t stop to analyse it. The first draft is going to be far from the finished product so this is the draft you can put anything in at all, all your wanderings and meanderings.
- Set up a writing practice
Try to write regularly, to build up stamina and gradually get to know your own voice, or way of writing. You could write every morning, like a stream of consciousness, or a diary every evening about the day’s events, maybe start writing letters to friends abroad rather than emails, or articles for local newsletters, start writing your own personal poetry, or short stories for competitions. When the time is right you will “ripen” and be ready to write your book.
Setting up a writing practice will help you to create discipline in relation to writing a book. Try to have a schedule every day, maybe just a couple of hours, lets say when you get home from work, where you go off and write.
- Somewhere to write
Have a space, even if it is a table in the corner of a room, which is just yours for writing practice. This is a sacred space, keep it clear from clutter, and welcoming.
- Always carry a notebook
The muse might take you at any time or place so be prepared to jot down ideas, images, things which people say at the oddest moments. You think at the time you might remember them but often you don’t.
I think this is the key ingredient in helping you get going when writing a book. You might have a great idea for a book, characters, events, but how do you get it all down? How do you sustain the novel through the beginning, middle and end? The structure of your book is something which I think cannot be manipulated but reveals itself to you organically…it is a gradual natural progression of your work as a writer so if you keep your writing practice going and at the back of your mind you have this great idea for a book, one day I promise you the way forward will be revealed….you might be in the shower, or driving the car, or watching a movie… but you will have a sudden illumination…hold on to this until you get to the right space to write and then use it as your guideline. Once you have your framework or skeleton you can start building your book. Remember this “structure” is not written in stone, you might want to change it….
- Be Free
Never feel that you have to write something because it makes sense in terms of your story…be free to change direction whenever you want. You may think that your book is about one thing but as you write, it might turn into a therapy that you have to write through those events to come out the other side and find the story you really want to tell.
- Don’t be precious
In the same way try not to become too attached to any piece of your writing. Even though it might be beautiful writing it might not work in the total scheme of your novel.
Have a couple of close friends who you trust to read your stuff and give you supportive, kind but honest feedback. You need these initial responses before you can be ready to take it to agents etc. Maybe join a writers group or start one up to give each other positive responses to each other’s work and mutual support.
- Meet the Mind
Writings essential ingredient is the mind and how it functions. In school we are taught how to organise what is outside the mind. We learn how to make an outline but that structure or plan is built externally to the actual heat of creation. Western intelligence is preoccupied with thinking, and has avoided examining the mechanism of thought. To quote from Natalie Goldberg,
“Only saints and the insane travelled that interior territory. And what was the result? They cut off their ears, shot themselves, or were burned at the stake. “ So the West has always looked suspiciously at the inner world.
However what the East has given the West is a safe, structured way to explore the mind. This is why I meditate and practice yoga. I am not suggesting that you all do this but I find that my own spiritual practice is very tightly keyed into my creative practice. When you meditate you are taught a fundamental, disciplined posture. The directions are specific:
Cross legs, sit on the floor, hands on knees, thumb and first finger touching, chest open, crown of head pulled up as if on a string, eyes closed. You light a candle, some incense, even ring a bell, do not move. Go! But where do you go? Nowhere externally. You have to pay attention to your breath but as soon as you try this you find a hurricane of thoughts, emotions – rebellion, desire, restlessness, agitation.
Gradually through this practice you can slowly begin to control the mind, listen to your breath, and stay completely present in each creative moment. And thus you can get to a place where you are writing from THE HEART rather than the head….by that I mean a true expression of your creative self rather than something which is manipulated.
To meet your mind you do not have to go through meditation it can be through swimming, or walking in the woods, or any simple repetitive silent ritual where you can draw yourself into yourself. Also following a practice like yoga or meditation can help you develop the same discipline when applied to your writing practice.
- Silencing the censor
As you start writing and start listening to your creative voice, you will have to also listen to the sounds of a second voice belittling everything you do, criticising it, putting you down, saying WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
Recognise the voice for what it is….it is not the truth, but a mechanical contraption which all minds contain. And even people with the most supportive parents suffer from the didactics of the censor because it is a test. The more you write, the deeper, and the longer, the louder that belitting voice becomes or as Goldberg calls it the Monkey Mind….you have to write on through it, you have to show your determination, prove your mettle because silencing your censor will eventually bring a closer intimacy with your mind, and an ability to write from the heart.
13. Write for your reader
The gift of writing is a divine one. Like all talents it is not something you possess but passes through you like a white light, which is a gift you can and should share with others, your readers. Good writing is not just about the author, and this is so important….it has to be something which transports or enriches the reader’s experience. Free yourself of your ego which is as much a voice telling you that you can’t write as one that tells you that you are brilliant…it is not about YOU – be humble to your craft and the words will spill forth!