Shaun Levin

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Routine’

Some Writers

In Writing, Writing Exercises on September 7, 2020 at 12:25 pm

Some writers write at home. Some writers write in hotel rooms. Maya Angelou had a regular hotel room in which she wrote. Hotel rooms are good places to write. Some writers write in cafés. At some point you realise what type of writer you are, what your writing routine looks like, when and where you write best. Some writers are stricter than others. Do the most important thing first, is what some writers say. Do the writing first. Some writers start the day with admin. Some writers start the day with a run, or a walk around the block, or push ups. Some writers do push ups in their pauses. Some writers procrastinate. I’m not sure that’s a legitimate way of being a writer, but if things eventually get done then maybe it is. Some writers work on one thing. Some writers always have more than one thing on the go. Some writers feel bad about procrastinating. Some writers beat themselves up. Some writers give themselves license to do whatever they want as long as they get things done. Some writers like sunshine and some like the early hours of the morning. The wee hours. The owl hours. Some writers are night owls. Some writers wake up at 3. For some it’s a pm 3 for others it’s when others are going to bed. Some writers run a lot, like 10k a day. Some writers need a view and others need a wall. Some need silence. I know a writer who needs a lot of silence. I know a writer who gave up, said they were done, that they were tired, that life was too short. Some writers just keep going because what else is there to do. Some writers like to talk about their writing. Others wouldn’t dare. What you working on? Oh, you know. Some writers will tell you everything. Some writers will tell you nothing. Some writers walk, and others stare at the ceiling. Often these are one and the same writer. Some writers are competitive, always keeping an eye on what others are doing. Other writers, to be honest, don’t really care about things like that. They’re just happy to be writing. That’s what they tell themselves. I know writers like that. I know them intimately. Others used to be competitive or became more competitive with age. Writing is not a competition. Some writers like all-consuming projects. Some writers write in short burst, little stories that resonate. Some writers plan. Some writers love the company of other writers, others like the company of other artists, all sorts of artists as long as they’re not writers. Some artists don’t get writers. Some artists look down on writers, think that what they (we) do is easy. Some writers know that writing is the hardest art, that there is no art form more difficult than writing, that writing is the only visual art where you have to rely on words, on one colour on an off-white background. Some writers don’t know that writing is a visual art. Some writers are frustrated visual artists or dancers or something that is not writing but when they write they embody the painter or the ballet dancer or the acrobat that they dream of being. Some writers write as a second choice. Some writers don’t know what they’d do without writing. Some writers think that writing is a curse, their cross to bear, and they love it and they hate it and it causes them so much pain and so much joy that they’re not quite sure sometimes how they feel about it. Some writers sleep well at night and some have insomnia. I know many writers who have insomnia. Some writers are anxious people. All writers are anxious people. It is not possible to be a chilled-out writer. Some writers think that writing is a way to alleviate anxiety. Some writers rely on writing to make a noise after many years of feeling silenced, a whole childhood of feeling silenced, or being silenced, because some people should be seen and not heard or not seen at all, and some writers have gone through things that if it wasn’t for writing might have drowned in that thing or the consequences of that thing. For some writers writing is fun. I love writing. It makes me so happy when I write. Is a complicated statement. Because it’s true. Some writers wish they could be writing all the time, that wouldn’t life be great if all we did was write, which goes back to that hotel room where all you have to do is write and sleep and lie in the bath and can you bring me a burger and I’ll have the continental breakfast today and yes I’m ready for my mid-morning coffee and can I have a slice of that carrot cake you had last week. Okay, no problem, the chocolate cake is good, too. Some writers are not fussy. Some writers are fussy. Some writers have a talisman, a ritual, a candle to light, background music to play, a desk, a pen, a type of paper. Some writers don’t write on paper. Some writers type. Some writers work straight onto the computer. Some writers would not be able to write without a notebook. I know a writer who does everything first in the notebook. Some writers work. Some writers plan. Some writers go into it not knowing where they’ll land up. Some writers know where they’ll land up but they love it anyway. Some writers love the process. Some writers are in it for the ride. Some writers don’t like the end and arriving at their destination because really what it means is that a whole new journey will begin and they must now get to the end of this one and stop.

Exercise: Write until you find a good anchor phrase, something that can be repeated at the beginning of each sentence, then keep using it, over and over, until you run out of steam. (See also: “On the Importance of Having Unread Books on Your Bookshelf.”)

A Single Written Sentence

In Writing, Writing Exercises, Writing Workshops on September 1, 2020 at 3:54 pm

It may come as a shock how little time you need to write a book. A story is loyal to those who turn up to write it, and that loyalty grows with the regularity with which one turns up.

(Even though I set the timer and I told myself I’d write for 20 minutes, along came a distraction, and to be honest I can’t remember what the distraction was, maybe it was the delivery guy with the books, but that was 8 hours ago and so much has happened since then, so many distractions, so many nice things, the regular day to day things that fill our hours, like spending time – online, on Whereby – with a friend and doing what we call office time or water-cooler time, in other words, we work in our separate living rooms/studios/bedrooms and there’s accountability. Things get done. Not those initial 20 minutes, though, the ones I started 8 hours ago, so here I am at the other end of the day, starting over.)

It may come as a surprise how little time is needed to write a book. An hour a day is a generous amount, and done daily, seven days a week, as Walter Mosley suggests – no days off – you’ll have a book by the end of the year.

Try it. Set the timer and write for 5 minutes. Whatever comes to mind, even if it’s just to repeat what can I write what can I write I need something to say I want something to say and something will come I promise you that.

In 5 minutes (this is a recent discovery) I usually write approximately 150 words, even with slight pauses here and there, which would mean that in 20 minutes I could do 600 words, which means that in 1 hour I can write almost 2,000 words. 2,000 words over 30 days = 60,000 words, which is a first draft of considerable dimensions. Write for 5 minutes just to see what happens, to get a sense of what you can do in that time. I don’t believe in the importance of word counting, but I do think it’s helpful to know what you can do in a given amount of time. Why? To dispel the myth of the inordinate amount of time needed to write a book. More than the word count, the turning up, the making time is what matters.

Whenever I make time, I have something to show for it, even if it’s just a sentence. A single written sentence is a lot more than an unwritten novel. I’m not sure what that statement actually means, whether it’s of any use to myself or others, but I sense there’s a truth in it.

I want to say something about time spent in good company. Writing with others is my favourite way to write. Writing is lonely, having to be both the writer and the audience is a challenge. Often the project itself is all the company you need, and when that happens it’s a kind of miracle. Writing in a café or art gallery is often all the company I need. But writing with a friend on a park bench or at the kitchen table is my favourite way to write.

Tomorrow’s plan: Writing with friends.

The Writer Must Love

In Writing on August 31, 2020 at 8:56 am

The writer must love writing. To really and truly love the act of it, the putting of pen to paper, the making of words, typing or hand-writing. The writer must love books, maybe above all the writer must love books, these things that hold the words the writer creates, the stories, anywhere between the length of a short paragraph or 600 pages. The writer must love their own company as they write, the writer must love words, words and books and their own company as they write. The writer who loves writing forgets themselves for those minutes or hours of writing and all there is is writing. That is what love looks like. The writer must enjoy what they do and what they’re capable of doing on the page. The writer must delight in the acrobatics of their own mind. The writer must be able to make themselves laugh and cry and pause in wonder at what has suddenly appeared on the page. Those words! The writer must love them and be grateful for them for there are moments when you write, when we write that there is not just us, but some kind of apparition from the wonder of our body and our mind and our gut.

The writer must love their own writing. Maybe not every minute of the day, maybe not most of the minutes of the day, maybe for only a few minutes a day, but the writer must get a glimpse of the wonder of what they do. So wonderful to themselves. Oh, it’s nice to see your name in print and to hold a book with your name on the cover, and it’s nice to be invited to read for an audience and be asked questions about things we have written, but if that is all the writer is writing for, then they will soon be found out. The writer must write without ego. I’m not entirely sure what the ego is (note to self: research ego) but if the writer can write for the exhilaration of writing and/or the comfort of writing and/or the surprise of writing and/or the joy of writing, then the writer is writing for the right reasons.

The writer must love writing more than they love being a writer. To write is to be nothing. To write, like painting, like drawing, dancing, singing is to be nothing and yet to have glimpses of the wonder of that nothingness. To be the thing itself, the words created, the movement of pen on paper, fine, okay, fingers on keyboard, because – full disclosure – these 20 minutes are being written on a desktop in the morning, second coffee done, enjoying the morning, enjoying taking these 20 minutes as I sit at my desk with one leg on the table, my earplugs in, the mind gently blocking out everything else on my screen (quick, go to Enter Full Screen. That’s better.)… The writer must love… The writer must… What I really want to say is:

The writer must love words and what words can do.

The writer must make time to write. There is always time. I know people who get up at 5 in the morning so they can write before their kids wake up. How do they do it? I don’t know. But they do. I admire anyone who can write for those 20 or 30 minutes that their child is asleep mid-morning. I have so much time in which I don’t write. The writer must see the time in which they don’t write as necessary, too, for writing. The writer must love writing enough to turn up every day, even if for 20 minutes. The writer must find time for the thing they love, which is writing. The writer need not be full of love for the world in order to love writing. The writer need not be glamorous or reclusive or shy. The writer must have at some point in their life a glimpse into the transformative and uplifting (find a better word) power of stories, putting words on the page, and the sensation of holding a book with the fingertips of both hands.

Wrestling with a Story

In Writing on April 5, 2016 at 8:18 pm

First person or third. I can’t remember which came first. I may have started the story in first and then translated it  into third, or maybe it began in the third person. The story is autobiographic-ish, based on someone I know, someone I was kind of in love with but who wasn’t in love back. The story was a What If. What if we’d taken everything to its extreme. It’s not a story with a happy ending.

A few years ago I finished the story in the third person and sent it off to a competition and it won. I don’t remember what the competition was called and there was no big hoo-hah around it, but it was nice to win – it’s always nice to win – and there was even a bit of cash involved. You’d think that would set the story in stone, that acceptance would be the end of it. But the story never got published – it wasn’t that sort of competition – and it’s hard to let go of an unpublished story.

Print is the final goodbye. I know that’s not entirely true, that writers like Raymond Carver changed stories radically from one printing to the next, say from printing in a magazine to the story’s appearance in a collection, or from one collection to another. I don’t want to spend these twenty minutes doing research, but I think it was a story that appeared in What We Talk About and again in Cathedral. Was it “Small Things” that was also called “Popular Mechanics”? Am I it’s-all-coming-back-to-me correctly?

Now as I write I’m asking myself: Why not try the second person? I’ve always liked the intensity and intimacy of the second person. It often feels like the most creative voice to hide behind when writing autobiographical stuff.

The struggle is… the grappling is… the wrestling with the story happens when the right voice won’t make itself known to you right away; the pen takes a while to get on the scent. You have a story, you know pretty much what you want to say, but finding the voice in which to tell it, is not so easy. Eventually you have to let go. Putting a story into a collection or getting it published is one way to stop wrestling with it.

I had a story like that in my first collection. I think it was called “Everything is Sweets” or something like that. I fought that story for years, maybe close to ten years, it hung around and kept changing , kept not being in the right voice. Bits of the story itself changed, things got added, taken away. I couldn’t tell you what got lost and gained along the way. It got published. I let go.

On some level, one wants a story to reveal itself to you, to tell you what it needs. The way a good lover will tell you what they need to be happy. At the moment, the story is being difficult and it wants me to work out why. You figure out what I needs! It’s giving nothing away, no clues. If only I knew the right words, I could make it run smoothly. Something’s missing and I’m not sure what. Yes, the voice isn’t right, but the voice will bring the right story with it, too; the right voice let me know what’s missing from the story or what needs to be taken out. The voice will tell me the story.

So I continue to wrestle. Or at least that’s what I should be doing, instead, I’ve walked away, gone to other stories and let the difficult story simmer, or sulk, or rest, or get some distance – give me some space! – or whatever it is that I need or the story needs to become clearer when we meet again. Maybe there’s a truth in the story that I’m not ready to hear. Maybe the story has something to tell me that I’m not ready to face. Maybe, and isn’t this the case with the creative process in general, one of us needs to submit. And seeing as there’s only one of us here, that one of us will have to find a way to quietly submit to the story.

Next time: Let’s talk about submission.