In my early twenties, a friend gave me the book ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande. I’d always known I wanted to write. I’d always written scripts and plays and poetry. For me writing was my ticket to a parallel universe that I had far more control over and where anything could happen. But it wasn’t until I read Brande’s book that I really felt like I’d started on the path to Becoming A Writer, and established two writing habits that have helped me achieve my writing goals and that I still implement today.
Writing Habit number One:
There’s a passage early on in the book where Brande talks about moving Toward Effortless Writing; she says, ‘The best way to do this is to rise half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can – and without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before – begin to write.’
At the time, I often wrote late in the evening, or on days off work when I felt inspired. I wasn’t at all used to writing like this. I’d turn up at the kitchen table bleary-eyed (sometimes I had to get up at 5.30am to fit in half an hour before leaving for work) and wrote an awful lot of rubbish – dreams, snippets of conversations, everything that was wrong with my life, half-cooked ideas, the beginnings of novels, anything that popped into my head. But after a while it grew easier and more productive, and pretty soon I fell in love with writing first thing every morning. Early morning became and has remained my favourite time to write. Much of my debut novel ‘The Glimpse’ was written between 5.30 and 7.30am before my very young kids took over my day.
The second big step in Brande’s ‘Becoming a Writer’ is to teach yourself to write at any given moment of the day. She calls it Writing on Schedule:
‘After you have dressed, sit down for a moment by yourself and go over the day before you…. Sketch out for yourself enough of a program to know when you will have a few moments to yourself…. Decide for yourself that you will take that time for writing; for you are going to write in it…
Now this is very important, and can hardly be emphasized too strongly: you have decided to write at four o’clock and at four o’clock write you must!'
This exercise was incredibly beneficial and I'd recommend it to any who needs to write in small snatches because of their job or kids. I actually kept doing these exercises on and off for a couple of years and eventually found that not only had I acquired the invaluable skill of being able to sit down and jump back into my story at any time of the day, (dictated many years later by nap time), but also the ability to keep progressing with a story, even when I didn't feel inspired or in the mood.
Now I have a daily writing schedule which includes morning writing seven days a week. From time to time I sit down and really struggle to get into whatever I’m working on. On these mornings I go off and do something else. It averages out to about 1 day a week off and six mornings writing.
Claire Merle is the debut author of 'The Glimpse', a heart- pounding dystopian thriller where 'Romeo & Juliet' meets 'One Flew over the Cuckoo's nest.'
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