5 Ways to Write Right Now
I’ve just come back from a month-long writing retreat at Moniack Mhor as part of the 2017 Jessie Kesson Fellowship. Yes, you read that right: a whole month. A month in a cottage on a mountainside, often with only Highland cows and my woodburning stove for company, in fact. If you’re thinking that sounds blissful, it really was -- but it was also a little terrifying.
I felt duty-bound to write every single day
We writers are notorious for complaining that we never have quality time to write. But what happens when you’re given nothing but time? Then you have to put your money where your mouth is and actually do the work, which -- as I discovered -- is sometimes harder than you might think.
During my month away I felt duty-bound to write every single day, whether I felt like it or not. I thought I’d share with you a few simple strategies that helped me settle into the daily habit…
Use writing prompts
I’d always been a little skeptical about writing prompts, though I have many writing peers who swear by them. I worried they were a bit like cheating: shouldn’t you come up with ideas yourself? But then just before I went to Moniack Mhor, a friend sent me an email with a list of ten absolutely brilliant ones. He knew I was feeling a bit daunted at the prospect of having to generate new writing every day for a month, so he’d created a list of really weird, wonderful and (I discovered) sometimes fiendishly difficult prompts for me.
“Walk exactly five footsteps from the door of your cottage,” one read. “Write a poem that includes the colour of the grass you’re standing on.” Challenge accepted, I thought. I wrote my way through the prompts and then asked for some more. I didn’t write to a prompt every single day, but I found them exceptionally useful for the times when I sat down to write and there was just nothing there. And even when the writing didn’t go well, I at least got the sense of satisfaction that came with ticking off one of the prompts from my list.
Find a writing buddy
I was really lucky to be in contact with other writers, both remotely and in person, on and off throughout the residency. While I scuffed about in the retreat’s little cottage, Moniack’s ‘big hoose’ played host to awardees from Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Awards and Next Chapter Award. In the evenings, we’d cook dinner and discuss how our writing days had gone. Back in Edinburgh, another friend kept me updated on the progress of his new poetry collection -- by turns good, bad, and downright difficult -- and we were able to have a moan together via the wonders of Facebook.
Having my writing prompts given to me by someone I knew really helped, too -- unlike with a prompt pulled from a book or the internet, I had to report back. Having writing buddies is like going to Weight Watchers: knowing you have to tell someone what you’ve done makes you try harder!
Develop a writing routine and stick to it
Just don’t give yourself a day off
Fun fact: while at Moniack, I discovered that I write best between the hours of 07:00 and 21:00. I only discovered this by spending about ten days of my month doing trial-and-error writing sessions at different times and seeing how I felt.
Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to open up any window in their day and see how the writing goes in that window, but I’m pretty sure anyone, however busy, can identify a fifteen-minute gap that recurs daily or almost-daily, even if it’s just the time spent waiting for a bus. Write in that time for a few days straight and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work, try another window. Just don’t give yourself a day off -- because one day off turns into six months of inactivity before you can say ‘procrastination.’
Ignore your word count
Fifteen minutes?, I hear you cry. How much can I realistically do in fifteen minutes?! The answer is, doesn’t matter. Just do some. Any. Ten words. A thousand, if you’re a fast typist. You don’t need me to tell you that writing ten words is better than writing no words. Every novel, no matter how epic or clever, was written one word at a time, until the words became paragraphs and the paragraphs pages and the pages chapters.
Novelists are just word-scribblers who didn’t quit. Try it: go now and write down a sentence. If you feel like you could write another, then do -- and repeat for as long as you can stand it. If you don’t, quit for the day -- you’ve just done your writing quota. As long as you go back and try again tomorrow, that’s what matters.
Embrace the short form
For every day at Moniack, I wrote an American sentence. American sentences are a dismantled, westernised version of the haiku form, invented by my all-time favourite poet, Allen Ginsberg. My favourite, from his collection Cosmopolitan Greetings, is titled ‘Tompkins Square Lower East Side N.Y.’, and the poem is: “Four skinheads stand in the streetlight rain chatting under an umbrella." That’s it: one sentence of seventeen syllables.
The ideal American sentence creates a vivid image but also tells a story, and I found the form perfect for journalling my days surrounded by mountains and sometimes-extreme weather. Writing an American sentence each day also meant that every single day -- no matter how badly any other writing or work went -- I could say that I’d written a poem. If the other writing went well, I could say I’d written two or three. One more time for the kids in the back: writing something really short still counts as writing something.
For more ways to kickstart your writing, check out our inspirational five things about writing posts.