One of the first tips you often hear from writers is: start by carving out time to write every day or several times a week. That is critical, but for me, I need to do something else first. I need an environment that tricks my body into unclenching. Every room in my home usually has someone in it, and they are often coming or going. Office space – forgive me as I laugh here – is financially out of reach. My budget is as lean as Michael Phelps in top condition. But after eight years of research, I decided in 2019 that my book was coming out in 2020 no matter what. That meant I had to get creative with my workspace. I made little changes so I could think big.
This varies for everyone, but I suggest any budding writer start with some variation of these basic steps I live by:
- My cellphone goes off or on vibrate.
- I stake invisible signs in the floor around me that come with a real, and very stern reminder to family that I am off limits. No exceptions unless you are near death. Cross my invisible line and spoiling my peace has dire consequences (like I may interrupt you working or show embarrassing pictures of you when your friends are over.)
- Next, I need to remove everything that can somehow sneak into my peripheral. Bills, day-job work, knick-knacks and any kind of paperwork are put behind me. (Don’t even look at the pile you are creating, otherwise you will be as good for writing as a leash-less dog who spots a squirrel.
- Then I get a nice beverage to help me relax. (Ok yes, obvious choices are coffee or tea, though bourbon has been known to appear a time or two.)
- And finally, I use lavender oil or burn a candle. The lavender is only a drop on my ear or wrist. And the candles – anything like the kind at Bath and Body Works, which can become addictive. Either way, I find that subtle scent forces me to take relaxing deep breathes because I want more.
All in all, my workspace is not exactly the picturesque retreat on a lake I would prefer, but it redirects my mind to move away from the day’s craziness and steer toward my world of choice for the next several hours.
Then use this trick I picked up years ago as a reporter. I think of this every time I face that ever-intimidating empty screen. I envision that I am talking to a friend. Whatever I think goes on the screen. I know it’s not going to be perfect, but I find I naturally hone on the things a reader would want to know. From there, I choose one point and begin to elaborate. Before I know it, I begin writing sentences I will ultimately keep.
Finally, be realistic and believe in yourself. Writing is a journey. Movie scenes showing writers pulling unblemished pages off a typewriter and adding it to the stack of pages in their book is just that – cinema. I can think of a few hundred writers I have known through my life and the greats I have read about, and no one does that. Your first draft is only that – a draft. Start again tomorrow taking the best from today and move on. Embrace the process and make it work for you.