In reading numerous works on the writing process and receiving advice from other writers based on their own personal writing habits, I have heard numerous renditions on what up-coming or potential writers must do to cross the threshold into actualized writers. These examples tend to take a dogmatic approach to the process. For example, an established writer will say one, absolute method exists in order to write, which usually just happens to be the method that particular writer uses. I disagree with this. Even if I find the advice helpful, I disagree with the necessity of strict adherence to any singular process.
Although I often refer to myself as a failed writer because I have not yet accomplished my goals, I also consider myself a judicious writer in terms of practice. As such, I have something to say about the writing process and some critiques regarding the advice being given to nascent writers. Further, my transitional, liminal position might provide additional insight, more accurate to the plight of new writers, where the advice of established writers might do more harm than good.
The examples of advice that I have studied have differences, but these differences are slight compared to the similarities. I mentioned the dogma of these writers. They dictate what must be done and what must not be done. The logic states that if it works for these writers and has found success, it should work for other writers. However, I believe these writers forget what it was like as a beginning writer. Since people tend to view the here-and-now as the ultimate—that is, final—position in life, their present situation biases their advice. These writers discuss their current habits with no reference or reverence to previous practices, but successful, wealthy writers have certain benefits not afforded to beginning writers. A new writer needs advice suitable for a new writer.
A common trend in writing advice is regarding what time of the day writers should write. Many writers prefer working in the morning, and often they will state the morning is best because dreams have not yet fully vanished, and the subconscious, from which creativity springs, lingers for an hour or two. This may prove correct. Writing while avoiding busy thoughts about writing can inspire creativity. However, I think having a critical mind while writing can improve first drafts and provide a more precise goal for second and third drafts. Also, upon hearing this advice, I can’t help considering the busy morning schedules of students and working adults. The fact is, one can turn off active thoughts and let muscle memory do the typing at any point in the day. Still, many authors insist writing must occur only in the morning.
This advice can misguide beginning writers. With the authority of the established writer advising morning is the preferred writing time, a new writer may believe no other option exists and lose hope. Many new writers are not able to write immediately in the morning. Lives exist outside of writing. Sometimes we must hurry to work first thing. Sometimes we have breakfasts to prepare for the family. Sometimes we can’t accommodate by waking an hour or two earlier. If the established writer tells the new writer that writing must happen within certain circumstances, a specific time in this case, the act of forcing adherence to these circumstances could overpower any creativity. The new writer could overdraw mental energy by worrying about setting up the proper time to write, leaving none for the act of writing. By being established, the established writer has the authority to dictate circumstances. The new writer needs to gain flexibility.
Established writers also often have rules and rituals for writing. Some will explain how to construct the most conducive environment. Some will tell of mantras to develop the proper mindset. Some will speak of totems, baubles, and doodads needed to heat their creativity to a boil. These rules and rituals differ from writer to writer, but the writer’s faithfulness to their personal traditions shows the inherent worthlessness of prescribing these rituals. What works for one writer will not necessarily work for another. Therefore, the new writer might not benefit from copying an established writer’s ritual. Further, given this advice, new writers might believe they cannot write unless they perform a set of rituals and have the perfect place to write. They might think an error in one part can and will derail the entire process. However, not every new writer can set up the perfect situation. They might not have a secluded space to perform a series of rituals. New writers need to discover their own routines and learn to forgo them sometimes.
My advice for new writers is to adapt and find what works for you. If you wait for the perfect circumstances to write, you’ll never write. Maybe you write in the mornings. Perhaps you write in the afternoons or evenings. Either way, find what works for you.
Before my preferred routine, I attempted other methods. I tried writing in the morning, then at night. I tried lounging on the couch with a journal, then I tried sitting outside with stacks of Post-it notes. Eventually, I settled on my current writing mode in the afternoon, after lunch, either on my laptop or in my journal (depending on my current project). My process doesn’t match the advice I have read or heard, but it works for me.
Perhaps your schedule fluctuates from day to day, keeping you from securing set times to write. In this case, you need to find moments when you can write. It is better to write in imperfect situations than not to write at all. Although I have a preferred room and time, I have written under different circumstances, such as my car, at work, or in a quiet corner at a friend’s home. I make sure to find moments in which to write. The act of writing must always take precedence over finding the ideal set of circumstances to write. Writing takes practice and exercise. Losing out on a day or two because you couldn’t find the right place to write can adversely affect your writing.
Remember to write every day. While having a special place and routine can help, you must remain flexible. Successful, established, famous, and wealthy writers have the benefit of speaking from their established position, and though they have written hundreds of stories and millions of words, every author began with a First Story. Keep that in mind as you find what works for you.
About the Author: Bennett Durkan’s literary fiction has appeared in Short Story Town, Atomic Flyswatter, and Volney Road Review, while his genre fiction has appeared in The Horror Zine and 9Tales Told in the Dark. His poetry has appeared in Willard & Maple, Ikleftiko, and Five 2 One. He was also a finalist for the Authors Marketing Guild’s 2020 short story contest. Visit Bennett Durkan online.
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