David C. Hughes, Writer

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Archive for the category “Writing Workshops”

Motivation and the Writing Life (Part 8 of 8)

DEVELOPING (AND STICKING WITH) THE WRITING HABIT, PART 2

One of the worst fears of my past was of lying on my death bed, reflecting on my life, and asking, “What the hell was that all about?” I don’t know about you, but that scares me. So if you’re serious about becoming an accomplished writer, it’s imperative you make writing a habit.

I’ve heard it said time and again that it takes only three weeks to establish a good habit; likewise it takes 21 days to break a bad habit. To become a published writer you must write, and to write consistently, it behooves you to make it a habit. Strive to condition your mind and body to sit down at a regular time and work for a set length of time, or until you’ve achieved some predetermined goal. If you’re serious about this profession, it’s imperative you plant your butt in the chair, place your fingertips on the keypad or a pen in your hand, and write. It may sound absurd, but how many writer wannabes do you know that love to just sit around and talk about writing but never write? Yes, writing is damned hard work, publishing your writing is even harder, but to do either you have to start somewhere and keep it going. Procrastination is not a viable path to a successful writing career; if fear is the mind killer, procrastination is the time killer.

So how do you go about developing the writing habit? First, make sure you’ve answered the question discussed at the beginning of this article: Why do you write? Seriously, sit down and have a long talk with yourself as to why you want to write and what you hope to accomplish in your writing. Do you want to write to sell your work, or do you write because it’s a fun and creative outlet for your inner muse? Do you hope to make a living at it, or are you satisfied to dabble in it as a hobby? Are you writing to vanquish demons or to help you understand who you really are, and why? Do you feel you have something to say, and the best way for you to communicate is through writing? Is writing your art form, your way of expressing who you are and why God put you on this earth? Are you writing to satisfy your curiosity or to stimulate it even more? Finally, ask yourself this: Are you ready to do this thing for real? If the answer is “yes,” welcome to the funhouse!

Once you’ve decided to throw your heart over the bar, choose a place where you can hole up, go there consistently, and write. It can be a spare bedroom, a closet, an office, a coffee shop, a bookstore, or the library, as long as it’s “your” place to escape to. Choosing a place to write is important to establish a response similar to Pavlov’s dogs to the ringing of a bell. When you see your computer, when you smell those leather-bound Britannicas lining the bookshelves, when you feel comfortable in your writing nest, you’ll practically drool with creativity and energy.

Next, set a time and a goal for each writing session. Choosing a time is important to establish a rhythm to your writing habit. You go to bed at 10:30. You wake up at 6:00. You eat lunch at 12:15. You go to church at 9:00 every Sunday. You mow the lawn every Thursday after work. When you forget to set the alarm, you wake up at the proper time anyway. You’re conditioned. Your body does it automatically. So do the same thing for your writing career. Condition yourself to it.

When I was working on my novel, On the Inside, I rolled out of bed at 5:00 a.m. and wrote for a half-hour every day, seven days a week. I usually didn’t set a goal for number of pages or scenes written, I just wrote until I had to start getting ready for work. I finished the novel in about three years. Just think: If you write one 250-word page a day, every day, you’d produce a good-sized novel in a year. One novel a year ain’t too shabby. And that’s only one page a day! Just think of what you can accomplish banging out four or eight pages a day. Remember, we all have twenty-four hours every day. If your writing is that important to you, you must set aside the time to work on it. It’s your decision.

 

LEARN SOMETHING NEW, THEN WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW

I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom, “Write what you know.” I dislike that saying. Why? Because I really don’t know that much. And if I wrote about what I knew, I wouldn’t learn anything. Everyone reads to learn something new, and I’m convinced one reason we’re writers is because we have an insatiable curiosity about how life and the world works. Nowadays, even readers of fiction expect to learn about some exotic land or how to hack into a national security system. So take a deep breath and learn something new. Jump out of an airplane (with a parachute). Research how identity theft is accomplished, or how a computer virus can wreak havoc on an economy. Go behind the scenes at a country-western concert. Eat at a different restaurant every week and write a year’s worth of reviews. Learn, learn, learn. The day I stop learning is the day I die. Then I’ll start over again by interviewing St. Peter at the Pearly Gates and asking his opinion about joy.

As a family, Mary and I try to experience new things as often as we can, and we strive to expose Hannah to as many fun and exciting adventures as our calendar and budget allow.  Because I’m relatively antisocial, I long ago appointed Mary as “cruise director” of our household because she’s not one to sit at home very long and veg. Last weekend our future niece, Michelle (no pressure on you, Matt!), a school teacher and dancer for the Texas Legends basketball team, offered us a block of tickets for an upcoming game. Mary jumped on it, but I hesitated: the game started at 7:00 on a Friday night in Frisco, Texas, an hour drive from Aledo in no traffic. I didn’t relish the thought of spending that long cooped up in the car stuck in Dallas-Fort Worth gridlock. But Mary prevailed. “You’re always saying you want to go on adventures,” she reminded me. “Here’s one of them.” So off we went, and not only did I thoroughly enjoy the game, I mined enough material from that experience to put together a sizable future blog post (about the fact that I couldn’t just watch the game–I had to put up with all the distracting marketing crap with which sporting events are now fraught). I learned something new. In fact, I learned a lot new from that one adventure! All I had to do was step out and be willing and flexible enough to immerse myself in it.

Ardath Mayhar, a fiction writer I knew many years ago, used to wear sharpened knitting needles in her hair bun because no one suspected a little old lady would hijack an airplane (this was before 9/11). This quirky woman once wrote a sidebar for Writer’s Digest about fear. Paraphrasing her, she said there’s no room for timidity in this business. Obviously someone who would dare to get on an airplane with sharpened knitting needles piercing her hair is not very timid. But if the dream is strong enough and the desire powerful enough, you’ll have the courage to stare down the fears, shove them aside, and turn your dreams into reality. Now take a deep breath, put pen to paper, and do it.

As Jackie Collins once said, “If you want to be a writer—stop  talking about it and sit down and write!”

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

Motivation and the Writing Life (Part 7 of 8)

DEVELOPING (AND STICKING WITH) THE WRITING HABIT, PART 1

 

Once upon a time there lived a king who desired to conquer a rival kingdom. This kingdom, he knew, possessed the purest gold, the finest silver, and the most redolent spices. Its promises called to him on the westerly breezes, and its beauty sang to him on still mornings. But between his kingdom and the land of his desires lay a fast-flowing and turbulent river, as deep as it was wide and as black as it was vast. Shrouded in fog, the shores of the rival kingdom never presented themselves clearly, but instead magnified the mystery of the king’s yearning. He hungered for the other kingdom, but knew not how to cross the river to possess it. That is, until one restless night he had a dream.

The next morning he awoke and summoned his advisors. “We must build a bridge across the river, and once the bridge is complete, we will move our army across it and take possession of the other kingdom with all of its gold, silver and spices.”

“How will we build the bridge, sire?” one of his advisors asked.

“With the strongest of materials and with the skill of a thousand craftsman,” the king replied. The advisors buzzed with excitement.

“Where shall we get these materials?” quizzed another advisor.

“From our quarries and mines and forests,” said the king. The advisors whooped with delight.

“Where shall we hire the craftsmen?” a third advisor queried.

“Why, from across the kingdom, of course,” the king answered, and the advisors chattered happily about their leader’s dream.

The men talked and planned and discussed throughout the day and far into the evening, making little progress but enjoying the conversation nonetheless. At midnight they dismissed and agreed to meet again the next day.

The following morning the advisors met with the king, and they talked and planned and discussed throughout the day and far into the evening what it would be like to finally reach the other kingdom and take possession of it. They drew up plans, discarded them, drew up more plans, threw those out as well. Once again, at midnight, the men dismissed and agreed to meet the next day.

On the third morning the king and his trusted advisors told stories of ancient conquests, drank mightily, laughed heartily, put forth a plan or two, tossed them out, and finished up at midnight with bleary eyes, large smiles and incipient headaches. The merry group, singing glorious songs about dreams and history, dismissed and again agreed to meet the next day to start planning the campaign in earnest.

This planning, talking, dreaming, wishing, and reminiscing carried on in this manner day after day, week upon week, month after month, and well into years. In that time the king’s dream never faltered, his desires never wavered, and his goals never changed; the king and his men remained content to enjoy the present and discuss the future, secure in the thought that, one day, the king’s dream would somehow be accomplished.

Early one morning, while the king and his advisors discussed strategies for that day’s planning session, a cry of alarm reached the castle. A massive army from the rival kingdom had sailed across the river during the night, conquering the town surrounding the castle and taking into its possession all of its inhabitants, livestock, gold, and silver. The great army was, at that very moment, assaulting the outer walls of the castle. Before the royal guard could muster into position, the adversary broke through and lay siege to the castle, capturing the king.

While the king lay chained to the bottom of a vessel moving swiftly downriver to the other side, he caught a glimpse of the shore through the fog and saw for the first time the object of his desire. His heart leapt as he realized all he’d ever heard about this rival kingdom was true—there it stood in all of its magnificence, more beautiful than even he had ever imagined.

It could have been his.

As the boat penetrated the fog and the landscape unfolded before his eyes, his captors blindfolded him and, upon making shore, they carried him off and tossed him into a dismal oubliette, where he lived out the rest of his days with his thoughts, memories and regrets as his only companions.

Humans, by nature, are supremely capable of achieving greatness if we put our minds to it. We can also become profoundly lazy, easily distracted and stubbornly complacent. If we’re not diligent and organized in our planning and in our work, our dreams and visions can slip through our fingers like a greased water balloon. Like the king and his grand dream, if we don’t grab hold of our life’s vision, we can lose sight of what we’ve set out to accomplish, and before we realize it, years have elapsed and the opportunities may have already passed us by. Or worse, regret may take us captive, shutting the door on possibility and blowing out the candle of hope.

(Up next: Developing (and Sticking with) the Writing Habit, Part 2)

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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