Wordstock: Three writers on their process

Last month I had the pleasure of attending several workshops and panels at Wordstock 2010 in Portland, Oregon. While the entire weekend was useful and invigorating for writer/teacher types like myself, the writers’ panel What Works for Me was probably the single most useful hour I spent at the event. We got to hear from three seasoned writers — Karen Karbo, Joanna Smith Rakoff and Heidi Durrow — about their writing processes and the quirky things they do to generate ideas or sharpen focus or enforce self-discipline. My notes from the session are below (gotta love the smart phone), and here are the three key points that have stuck with me in the weeks since the event:

  1. Writing is hard. It is WORK. It requires discipline and perseverance at least as much as inspiration and talent.
  2. Writers often carry a great sense of anxiety surrounding their work. The blank page is daunting, and even moreso when you are expected to fill dozens, or hundreds, of them with original brilliance.
  3. When you honor your craft enough to develop a process and writing routine that works for you, the work of serious writing can become a downright pleasurable activity.

And, now, my session notes from Karen Karbo, Joanna Smith Rakoff and Heidi Durrow:

  • It takes three weeks to create a habit. Apply this to your writing discipline.
  • Enforce your own deadlines.
  • It really is excruciating to write about things you don’t care about.
  • Read The Artist’s Way and figure out which of its routines work best for you.
  • Think about which paying writing gigs you can afford to do. Make sure the money matches your time and energy.
  • Make a clear distinction between your paid writing and your personal/hobby writing projects.
  • Look into writers colony options. Imagine being in a place where all you have to do is write! The short-term experience can change your writing process for the long-term. (If anyone has suggestions for this, please let me know.)
  • Let writing become your most enjoyable activity, something you look forward to and actually make time for.
  • Break a goal down to where it seems manageable and doesn’t bring anxiety.
  • Be sure to visit the writing every day, even if its only to read what you’re drafting.
  • Keep a happy file with notes, emails and blog comments of encouragement about your writing.
  • It’s OK to step away from a piece and get a sense of control before you return to it.
  • Identify the activities that help you do subconscious problem solving. These activities should NOT include checking email, Facebook and the like. Think folding laundry, going for a run, calling a friend.
  • Challenge: Do one thing that gets your mind going (for one writer, calling her mother), then write while the energy is fresh. Do this thing every time before you write.
  • Give yourself achieveable goals
  • If you’re stuck in editing a sentence before you finish it, turn off your screen or change your font color to white for a set period of time.
  • Crying while writing something personal (even fiction) is common and means you are writing about something that matters. Don’t be afraid of it, but don’t get stuck in it. Let it be a vehicle to move your writing forward.
  • When it’s time to create, don’t edit. When it’s time to edit, don’t create. You can only do one thing at a time.
  • Read poetry when you’re gearing up to write prose. Poets’ careful word choices, concise phrasing and rich imagery will rub off on your prose.

Now, go forth and write!

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3 responses to “Wordstock: Three writers on their process

  1. Thanks, I needed this. I especially liked the idea of keeping a “happy file” full of encouragement.

  2. Thanks, Caridad! These are great suggestions. Thanks for sharing them… I almost feel like I was there… or at least standing out in the lobby… reading your Cliff Notes of the event.

    Now… how to shorten my blog entries???? Such a desafio!

  3. More than 30 people have viewed this post, but only two have commented. I wonder what everyone else is thinking? What has helped you shape your process as a writer?

    I would like to add that software such as Self Control has helped me spend more time writing that I would have otherwise wasted surfing my favorite websites. And, for some reason, it’s icon is a skull and crossbones. YAR! (http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/31289/selfcontrol)

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