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Archive for September, 2008

Make A Writing Plan

Before you lock yourself in your room to write that best-selling book or whatever, you should honestly ask yourself what you want to accomplish. If all you want to do is pen a few poems or write some lines of prose for your own amusement, then go now with my blessing and enjoy. But, if you want your talent to be recognized and rewarded and long lasting then you will need a “plan” of some sort before you start.

Because writing is not an exact science, there are no rules you must obey. What follows are only “suggestions” that I have found useful over the years.

Making up your mind
The first thing you should do is to commit yourself to writing. This means believing in your talent enough to visualize your success before it actually happens. On a Seinfeld television episode a few years back, Kramer planned going on a long trip. His friends doubted him, but Kramer pointed to his head and told Jerry, “Up here, baby, I’m already gone!” Of course, the line got laughs because Kramer was a real “gone” character. But the point it makes is that once your mind tells you something is true then your body will follow. So, commit yourself to your dream of becoming a successful writer–see it happening!–and before you know it success will be yours. They say faith can move mountains. Let your faith in your own ability bring mountains of personal and financial rewards to your doorstep.

Communicating your intentions
After you resolve that you are serious about your writing, you must relate that same seriousness to your family and friends. I realize that writers who are married to non-writers find this difficult. But you must try to make your loved ones know how committed you are. In the movie, “Cool Hand Luke,” Paul Newman as Luke is dragged back in chains after he tries to escape from a backwoods southern prison. The warden, apparently believing that Luke didn’t fully understand the consequences of his act, calls all the inmates together and tries to get poor Luke’s “head straight” by saying, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” So, before you place your spouse or kids in leg irons for disturbing you, make certain you communicate with them from the start. Tell them you need time to write. Set down some rules. Don’t fail to communicate beforehand how serious you are. Then, if these rules are broken by anyone, feel free to bring out the shackles.

Staking out your space
After you have made your commitment and communicated your intentions to your loved ones and friends, you need to locate a suitable space where you can write without interruption. The ideal solution, of course, is to have an “office”–a separate room in your home or apartment reserved exclusively for writing. It took me almost 35 years to get to this point. And I relish it. But, for decades, I wrote wherever I could find a quiet spot. For instance, my first so-called office was in the basement. It consisted of an old workbench next to the coal furnace. Later, I set up my trusty Royal typewriter in the attic. Like Stephen King, you may find your niche beneath a stairway, or, perhaps, in a second bathroom which Erma Bombeck used to pen some of her best-syndicated columns.

The main thing you have to look for is a space that is relatively quiet and away from possible interruptions. This is why I don’t advocate writing on the kitchen table or in the living room or any room frequented by other family members. You can’t expect them to tiptoe quietly around you while you work.
If you can’t find a quiet place at home, consider this idea: Get a job! By that I mean part-time solitary employment, such as a cashier in an all-night parking garage, a night watchman, or night bridge tender–all jobs I have worked at and used to my advantage. Not only do you put a few dollars in your pocket, but such jobs also offer you hours of quiet solitude and even supply you with free coffee and office space. How can you go wrong?

There are many “mindless jobs” out there that offer the writer a superb place to write. So, if you can’t write at home, get out of the house and write.  For years, I penned my newspaper articles on yellow legal pads in the front seat of my old Buick during my lunch break. Then I’d go back to the office and pound out the story in a matter of minutes, much to the amazement of my colleagues. A friend of mine liked to write in the library where she had access to as many books as she liked. Hemingway and others sketched a lot of their stories in cafes and saloons. So, lack of proper space should not be an excuse not to write.

Finding the time
Experts say the ideal plan is to have a set routine where you write each and every day at the same time. Personally, I find this difficult, especially when writing at home. So, rather than being held accountable to a clock, I prefer to set a goal for myself based on the amount of words I can produce.  For instance, if I can chisel out 500 words a day, I’m satisfied.

The way I look at it is that in three days I have the first draft for a column like this one; in ten days I have enough words for a short story, and in a hundred days I have the makings for a novella or a good chunk of a novel. This way I’m not locked into a timetable that I know I can’t possibly keep day after day. If my muse is in a good mood, I might get out a thousand or more words in one day. When this happens, I head out to the golf course the next day without any guilt.

Of course, each writer is a little different. Decide for yourself what is best for you. But, don’t set unrealistic goals and then give up when those goals aren’t met. Your writing plan–like writing itself–should be enjoyable and within your capabilities.

Getting started
Once you have your space and the time to write, the fun part starts. You stare at that blank sheet of paper or empty computer screen. You adjust your chair. You crack your knuckles. You scratch your head and … nothing!

Okay, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and look around you. What do you see? Now, describe your surroundings as if you were writing to your best friend. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar–just write! Once you get going, change gears–don’t stop!–go directly into what you wanted to write in the first place. Your mind is like a locomotive. Once it builds up steam, it will roll along swiftly and almost effortlessly. But you have to jog that big engine out of the station first. You will be surprised that, many times, it pays to write before you think.

Sticking with it
The hardest part of writing at home for many writers is the guilt that goes along with it. You tell yourself you should be spending more time with your loved ones. All writers have struggled with this dilemma of how to balance writing time with the needs of family and friends.

Author James Faulkner once missed his son’s birthday party because he needed to write and was told, “I’ll bet Shakespeare didn’t miss his son’s birthday party.” Faulkner shot back, “Who cares about Shakespeare’s kids?”

This disregard for the feelings of others may sound harsh, but the point Faulkner makes is that if you believe you are destined to be a great writer you often have to be selfish. The amount of time you spend writing–alone, away from family, friends, and other worldly distractions–will determine the degree of success you will eventually receive.

And, this “selfish” attitude also means being selfish toward yourself as well. You can’t give into your personal craving to watch television, or go shopping, or play a round of cards with your friends. You have to be as tough with yourself as you are with others. Remember, like most things in life, you have to work at it if you want to succeed. But you should enjoy writing enough to make these small sacrifices. Your journey to success should be a pleasurable one, albeit a difficult one at times.

Finishing the task
There is no greater joy in the writing process than typing “The End” on the last page of your manuscript. It signifies you accomplished what you had set out to do. Like James Caan in the movie “Misery” after he finally finished the novel to Kathy Bates’ liking, it’s time to light up that cigarette and drink a glass of your favorite wine. You’ve earned it

But wait! You still need to re-examine your work one last time before you mail it out. Have you followed the publisher’s writing guidelines? Is your submission free from misspelled words, or typographical and grammatical errors? Is your manuscript typed neatly with adequate margins and enough space between the lines to allow for editing changes? Did you include a SASE with adequate postage for a reply or return of your manuscript? Are you certain you spelled the editor’s name correctly? Have you spelled your own name correctly? Yes, a writer’s lot is not an easy one.

But would any of us change it for another occupation?

I think not.

So, plan today for a rewarding tomorrow.

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