- First and foremost, if possible, try to exercise, eat well and sleep. Though you may find it hard to keep this up, basic self-care will help your focus and allow for more productive writing times. I suggest avoiding writing through the night, especially during the completion of a first draft (you may make mistakes which could have been avoided with some rest, and then you’ll work twice). Also, if your aim is to make sustained healthy writing habits, writing at night is a bad idea because it’s hard to keep it up for long periods of time, especially if you have a job and/or a family to take care of. In the end, building negative habits can make you want to avoid writing altogether.
- Keep a bracket of untouchable time to read and/or write (either daily or on specific days). At first it may be a stress-inducing process to be so harshly disciplined, but it will mean that in those times you will feel that you’re doing what you should be doing. Writing can always feel like an ‘extra’ in your day if you have a day job to attend to, and this is a good way of bypassing other commitments.
- In the formation of writing habits, there are some that, while immediately pleasant, are more clearly self-destructive too. Smoking, drinking, too much coffee, are typical examples. I always thought of writing as a bit like acting, and all the things I end up doing during writing periods feel like scenes, filled with props and stage devices which allowed me to access different types of drama. It can result in a painful smoky cliché. Try and make those habits ones you can sustain, ones that don’t end up hurting you. What will happen if you dramatize destructive habits is that you reinforce an equation which makes them necessary for creativity to happen. The last thing you want when facing the prospect of a novel, is the lingering feeling of that there’s an insurmountable obstacle between you and the page.
- Engage with other types of created beauty. A common issue with writing is the loneliness and isolation our work can lead to. If you can appreciate other art forms related to your own work (for example, music which may have a close relationship to a scene or place you’re writing about) you can keep the independence you need or want while contextualising your own act of creation as part of a collective preoccupation with similar subject matter. I personally find music to be the best company.
- Understand that if you’re stuck, you may not be able to solve it straight away. You can get stuck in a project for a myriad of reasons. Some of the most common are: unmotivated action, unclear dramatic stresses, episodic narrative structure, interesting ‘concept’ but fails to translate into scenes, quirky premise but no idea of how to get to it, boredom, too superficial, overwhelming middle bit, etc. Don’t let the thought of being stuck take over the problem-solving process that a novel requires. Sometimes it’s better to put the draft under your bed and start another project with a clearer direction. One day, you’ll understand what I you’d been trying to do with the troubled project. Sometimes the solutions are simpler than you think, but may not come when you want them to. And it certainly doesn’t help to make it a more stressful and convoluted endeavour.
Gonzalo C. Garcia is a writer and Senior Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing in the Warwick Writing Programme. His recent novel, We Are The End is heavily influenced by his marked interest in Santiago de Chile, video games, digital culture and everyday constructions of narrative. It was nominated for the Edinburgh Festival First Novel Award 2017 and launched in October with Galley Beggar Press.
Directed by Maureen Freely and David Morley, the Warwick Writing Programme at University of Warwick prides itself in having writing staff who not only teach but are also published authors involved in the writing industry and literary scenes. It has just opened an exciting PhD programme in Creative Writing (https://goo.gl/3pdiB9) alongside its internationally recognised flagship BA and MA programmes.
For more on the Warwick Writing Programme: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/writingprog/
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