Tag Archives: Writer Resources

The Daily Routines of Famous Writers

Don DelilloIn furtherance of another article I wrote on Writing Routines, a friend recently sent me an article with several different author’s writing routines. It’s always nice to see that everyone has the same struggles and tribulations with writing.

A couple of the quotes that really struck me were Ernest Hemmingway and Susan Sontag, which surprises me because I (rather sacreligiously) am not really a fan of Hemmingway.

 Hemmingway’s Advocated Routine

“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”

I think that it’s a mistake I often make: to write until I run out of ideas on where my current scene is going. Although this is a natural break, it does mean that when I sit down again to continue, I have no idea of where to go. It may be time for me to start on some Hemmingway pragmatism.

Susan Sontag’s Planned Routine

(From her diary in 1977)

“Starting tomorrow — if not today:

I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)

I will have lunch only with Roger [Straus]. (‘No, I don’t go out for lunch.’ Can break this rule once every two weeks.)

I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model: Lichtenberg’s Waste Books.)

I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone.

I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much — as an escape from writing.)

I will answer letters once a week. (Friday? — I have to go to the hospital anyway.)”

This diary entry really struck home, because it looks like it could be an extract from my diary (subject,  of course, to revisions for things like “letters” (What are they again?)). Nonetheless, I saw my own struggles in Susan’s. Writing is a very solitary pursuit, and it’s good to feel that you’re not actually alone in it. The blog helps of course, but so do these lovely little snippets.

Write for 15 Minutes a Day

StopwatchNo pressure.

15 minutes is entirely do-able. Sit down, set a timer, ready, steady….. WRITE! Don’t stop to think and worry, just go – edit later – this way there will be something to edit.

I think that this is a really good exercise to do when you’re feeling like there is no time for writing in your life. I tried it out this morning. I woke up, made a pot of tea, sat down and just wrote. The short time frame I allowed myself was quite freeing, and it’s amazing how much I got done.

Currently, I am still world building for Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Today, I was plotting the relationships between the many city states in my fairy tale fantasy world. It has made me reconsider the longstanding name of my main city – Farway. I really do like the name Farway, but there has been mention that it sounds a little close to Far Far Away from Shrek. Another name has cropped up on me this morning – Yore, to be referred to as ‘the city of Yore’, etc. Any thoughts?

Starting a Writing Group

groupI’ve been helping to run WLWG for a little over a year and a half, and there are a few lessons I’ve learnt that I thought I’d share. There’s not much to starting your own writing group: get a few of your writing friends together or advertise locally, and arrange to meet and that’s it. But if you want to have a constructive writing group that lasts and provides you with encouragement and well-rounded critique on your writing, or otherwise, an appropriate meeting to sit down and write for a couple of hours, well, that is a whole different ball game.

There are two main types of writing group. The first is a critique based writing group, where members read their work and are critiqued (this article is mainly focused on this type of group). The second is a writing group where everyone sits together and writes for a set duration when the group meets, feeding off the discipline and creative energy. There are also amalgamations of the two.

Why start a writing group at all?

This is a good question and one to fully consider before launching yourself into organising your own writing group. Most likely, there are many local writing groups available. If nothing has turned up in your google search, try a local library (if it still exists) or a literary/ art / performance-art cafe, as these often have listings. It can take time to find a group that suits you, don’t give up after the first try.

If there is no local group or you can’t find one that suits your needs, there are a few things to consider.

Things to Consider before starting a writing group

Time Commitment: Organising any event, no matter how low maintenance, takes time and effort, consider running it with a one or more friends to share the load.

Type of Group: There are lots of different types of writing, and therefore a lot of different types of writing group. Whether or not the group should have a particular focus should be a consideration. For example, someone focused entirely on poetry might not have much to say about how best to write a non-fiction book about nuclear physics, and vice versa. However, the more specialised a group, the more difficult it might be to recruit writers.

Venue: There is often a romantic notion of hosting a writing group at people’s houses on a rotating basis. This is fine if all the members know each other or are friends of friends, but if you are reaching out to a wider circle, there are safety considerations. Also, there can be some pressures involved in hosting writing groups in people’s homes. Some may be uncomfortable with the idea and want to be excluded from the hosting circle or may live in an inconvenient location, some may want to play the host and provide food and drink (with others wanting to better the last person’s wares and some not wanting to provide anything at all). This can all result in resentment and infighting. I would recommend trying to find an external venue. This will forgo the aforementioned problems and also be a consistent venue so that members don’t have to double check the venue every session.

Fee: This ties in with the venue. If the venue requires payment for its use, it may be an idea to have members pay a fee. Consider whether the fee should be yearly, monthly or on a session by session basis. It might be hard to get members to fork out for a year in advance. This issue can be a little delicate, especially as the typical writer is not someone with a lot of spare cash to throw around. Also, if it is a critiquing writing group, there can only be a limited number of readers per session, and you may want to think about readers and non-readers paying different amounts to account for this. Alternatively, find a venue where the proprietors are happy with the group paying for food and drinks in return for consistent custom, and explain this purchase agreement as a policy to all members.

Frequency: How often will the writing group meet? Every week might suit some, monthly might suit others. WLWG meets fortnightly, and this has been a good frequency for us.

Time of Meeting: Although weekends might seem like a good time to meet, it can be hard to get a commitment from people for their weekends or Friday evenings. Unless all the members are students or are otherwise free during the day, I would recommend a weekday evening.

Open or Closed Group: This question is entirely about how you want the group to be run. An open group means that anyone can ask to attend, and it can go on a first come first serve basis or just have an en masse attendance. This sort of group can have a very high turnaround and be very admin heavy as it may require sorting through attendance lists and waiting lists every session and emailing confirmations. WLWG is a closed group, which means we have a set number of members, and occasionally open the group to new members when old members leave. The pros of this is that we all get to know each others’ work, and don’t have continual questions about backstory. A commeraderie develops, as well as a trust in each other’s critiques. There are definite pros to always having a new audience, but without knowing someone’s background, it’s hard to trust in the quality of a critique. The cons of a closed group is that it can be really good to have new blood and a fresh set of eyes on a piece.

Size of Group: Either way, open or closed, some consideration should be given to the number of members. Writing groups operate differently, you might be aiming for an intimate gathering or a large network. WLWG have 5/6 readers of an evening, and we aim for a quorum of about 10 people. Obviously, we have more than 10 members, bearing in mind absences. For WLWG, the quorum of 10 people is a balancing act between the largest number of people we can have and still have a good critique where everyone has the opportunity to speak, and enough people to create good custom for the publican who provides us with the venue to meet.

Guidelines: Essential to any forum is a set of guidelines, members should be given an idea of word count and how much time each reader is allocated, how many readers there will be in an evening, how it will work if there is not enough time for someone who wants to read, as well as the estimated end time. Some groups require the readers to send their work to each other to read beforehand – this requires additional organisation and some people can be a little touchy sending out copies of their work. Also, we all know how difficult it can be to share your work as it can be very personal, so setting a tone of mutual respect for each others’ work and giving a considered outline of how best to give constructive criticism might be beneficial (e.g. always say what is good about the piece before launching into a point that doesn’t work). This is so that everyone will be singing from the same hymn sheet.

Hosting an Evening: If it is a critiquing session, organise how many people will be attending beforehand, as well as how many people will be reading (it might be an idea to have reserve readers). Ask the people who are reading to bring enough copies of their work for everyone attending. Be clear about how the evening is going to run and be strict with timings – having a stopwatch is a good idea. And don’t forget to have fun!

Writing Routines and Rituals: with an Ode to Toni Morrison.

I always get and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come.
Toni Morrison

There’s a 1993 interview in the Paris Review by Elissa Schappell, where Toni Morrison dispenses her long-learned wisdoms on writing.

It was the start of the interview that really struck me. The idea of routine to get into writing. Even though I have never managed a long-lived writing routine, I Smudgedo realise that at my writing peak, I did have a sort of ritual – I used to burn sage. It’s called a smudge stick, which fairly resembles an illicit drug. I now know that smudge sticks are strongly associated the earth-mother-kind of spirituality, and I’m not at all a hippy-dippy type (though I have a lot of good friends who are). I discovered the background RE burning sage when a hippy-dippy friend made a comment about warding off evil spirits, the cleansing of auras, and such. It may well do that too, but for me, it was the ritual of the thing. The subconscious connections that the smell makes in my mind. 

A writing teacher of mine – Anne Aylor – used to burn sage in her classes, and I will forever associate it with being inspired and writing. It is amazing what the association does. It’s not often, but whenever I’ve chanced by the scent of burnt sage I feel the compulsion to sit quietly at a desk with a pen. It’s amazing that I forgot about it this strange association, but burning sage is something I’ve not done in quite some time. I need to re-enact this bizarre habit, and get back to a ritual and routine of writing.

Thank you Toni Morrison for reminding me.