Saturday, November 21, 2009


1. Write different
. In the same way that sportsmen try different sports for ultimate fitness, try new things on the page. Force writing muscles you haven’t used to wake up. Write in structured forms – a sonnet or an alphabetically organised story. Or freewrite – let yourself go. Write poems, or an essay, or a short story, or the first five pages of a novel. The key thing is not to let yourself get into a rut.

2. Write more. It sounds obvious but are you trying to write the one perfect piece and so stifling yourself before you start? Or are you saving up your best thoughts and images for one particular story? Be generous on the page. The more you write, the more you will have to write about, and the quality will – eventually – start to shine through. In the book, Art and Fear, there is a description of an experiment in which a sculpture class were divided into two groups. Half were going to be assessed on how many sculptures they created no matter the quality. The other half on the one perfect sculpture, just one for the whole course. Guess which group produced the better sculptures – yep, that’s right. The ones who produced the most.

3. Form a habit. Write at a particular time of day, or on a particular day. Be disciplined about it. Dorothea Brande in her classic book, Becoming a Writer is very firm about this. You make a writing date and you stick to it.

4. Remember what you like about writing
. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have complained that they can’t write but that they SHOULD be getting on with their poem, or their novel, or article. As if there’s someone forcing them to write. No wonder they don’t want to then. But, whisper this, the world will not collapse if we never write another poem. So somehow we have to get back to the joy of what we do. I find one of the best ways of doing this is to make a list of what I liked about the project in the first place, what I want it to achieve, what in a perfect world could happen to it, ie be published in The New Yorker! But if that doesn’t work – and it doesn’t always – I make another list of all the things I want to do when I’ve finished it and keep that to the side of the computer as a carrot.

5. And last but not least, turn off your internet. Now. Go on. Move away from the wi-fi, the twitter, the facebook, emails, blog reading. Use longhand if you must so you won't be tempted by the computer. I dare you!

Happy writing.

Related posts:

* On Refusing to Chose


Tuesday Kid said...

Your link doesn't work. But I liked your article.

JoniB said...

Hi Sarah! Congrats on the new book! It is going on my list of books to read in 2010.
On a mechanical note, please check the links in your post as they seem to be broken.

Sarah Salway said...

Thanks Tuesday Kid and JoniB - I've corrected links now!

Kathryn's Daily Writing Workout said...

I'm glad that writing more produces better results. It means that there may be a remote chance that my NaNoWriMo effort may pay off!

Sarah Salway said...

Definitely Kathryn! And are you enjoying it...

Kathryn's Daily Writing Workout said...

I was terrified at the outset but with the end in sight, I'm elated by the process of it all coming together. I thought that it would be such a different process to writing short stories but when you divide it into chunks, day by day, it's really the same. I'm learning to go with the flow be surprised by what happens next. Thank you for pointing me in its direction!