Monday, February 4, 2013

How Effective Writers (err, People) Behave

I found this old yellowed article last week when I was trying to clean up my disaster of a home office. I'm pretty sure my mother must have sent it -- she does good stuff like that. Guess what? It's really supportive and inspiring, especially for anyone who is under the deluded impression that writing -- or painting or composing or exercising or working or studying or anything else that requires a routine -- is easy. 

I'm retyping it here for anyone who's ever thought they were the only one.

ONE. "Effective writers do not count on inspiration."

True. At this stage in my design book (the last chapters are in sight, but the path leading up to them is steep), I count on coffee and chocolate.

"They write whether they feel like it or not, they write regularly and usually they write on a schedule. Most of them write a specific number of hours every day or they write until they have produced a specific amount of material."

Umm...kind of. I am a procrastinator so my writing sessions tend to benefit from a sense of urgency. This stems from my days in advertising in NYC when my art director and I would be asked to come up with an entire TV, print and radio campaign by the following morning. I don't recommend this approach, but I'm hardwired to it.

TWO. "Most effective writers observe certain physical rituals when they write. They try to write in the same place every day, and they habitually use the same tools. The details of writing are important to them: the kind of paper, the specific writing implement, the clothes they wear, the details in the room, etc."

Familiar workspace. Check.

Kilt skirt. Check.

Lumbar pillow. Check.

Clean the glass table before I start to write. Check.

THREE. "Most effective writers do not write unless they are facing a deadline."

Checkity check check.

"However, they make commitments that force them to write."

Me: Look what you get to watch when you finish.

FOUR. "Effective writers may procrastinate about their writing, using avoidance mechanisms like cleaning the house or doing other busy chores..."

Oops. Missed a spot.

...but they also recognize these digressions for what they are and have ways to overcome them."


FIVE. "Effective writers expect to have writing blocks and have devices for overcoming them, such as writing in a journal, skipping certain sections and copying previously written material."

The last two.

SIX. "Effective writers usually work slowly. Some write first drafts quickly, then rewrite it several times. Others may only write two drafts, but they write them slowly, making changes as they go."

Emphasis on the first sentence.

SEVEN. "Effective writers make some kind of plans before they write, but the plans are flexible."


EIGHT. "Effective writers recognize that writing is generative; they expect to get new ideas and additional insights as they write. They know that writing is an act of discovery."

True. When I have a writing assignment, I brainstorm ideas until my eyes go blurry. There is absolutely no judgment at this stage of the process. All comers are roundly welcomed with a hearty handshake and a slap on the back. I can't count the number of times a "crappy" idea has led me directly to a great idea.

NINE. "Effective writers recognize that writing is recursive; they continually go back to re-read what they have written for stimulation to continue, for the sense that they are on the right track."

True. Here are my notes for the latest chapter of my design book I'm working on. As soon as I finish writing this blog post, I'll be knee-deep in them once again.

TEN. "Effective writers work in stages; they seldom plan to finish a piece of writing in one session."

 True. Sometimes an assignment requires many tea breaks. 

"Most effective writers have trouble starting to write. Almost uniformly they say that writing is difficult and exhausting, but that they get satisfaction from having written."

Does this resonate with you as much as it does with me?

* * * * * * * *
Editor's Note: The article "How Effective Writers Behave" was written by Maxine Hairston. 


Jane Aston said...

I'm not a writer, a painter. It's a similar thing though I guess.
I am writing this with my foot on the easel, headphones at the ready, (music helps). I am about to fetch a pot of coffee and then I could be ready to start a day. I love the Bloomsbury circle and Charleston. I particularly drawn to Dora Carrington. Great blog brimming with ideas. It's made me think about my approach to the whole thing. Thankyou, I hope your day is most productive.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Jane Aston:

I have just updated my post to include everyone who follows their muse, thanks to you!

Coulda shoulda woulda said...

I do all these things even before writing the shopping list...only time i pretend to clean the house is before i have to write anything...

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way not only about writing, but find it holds so true for running too. The ritual of the regular route, the regular days, the procrastination and re-tying of the shoelaces and the feeling every time I go out that this will be the day I won't finish - I won't make it - until some physical memory takes over and propels me home. Perhaps it is all a metaphor for life...

KSL said...

I'm a painter and find all of these guidelines very true. I have to paint in a studio outside of my own - for me it's pretty mandatory. And I force myself to go, even if I'm not feeling "inspired" which is a lot of the time, until I begin to paint, and even then, sometimes I just keep ruining things. But as you said, "mistakes" and accidents can often lead to something unexpected.
Holding to a schedule and ritual is crucial. Sometimes I go to my studio and do nothing much more than clean up and look at art books, but I'm still putting in my time.

Melanie J Watts said...

This is great and so true. I've been freelancing for 20 years.

Kelly said...

Yes, yes, to so much. I'm diving back into my writing (again) after too much time away (again). Every one rang true for me, although I'm not at all ritualistic about what I eat or wear. Maybe I should try! ;)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Does is resonate with me.
Boy howdy, does it ever.

Sandy Donn said...

You are so right. . .as a painter, it all applies! A woman once told me she could never work at home - it took too much self-discipline. At that moment I realized the bubble world I created in order to create!

teamgloria said...

yes! yes! yes!

especially the tea tray.

we have a good one of those and use it regularly when Taking Breaks during writing binges.


_teamgloria x

Allison said...

I'm working on my dissertation, and the hardest part (yet ultimately the most effective) is showing up to work on it every day. Picasso was right-- inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.

Lalav said...

This may not be the comment you were expecting.. but I like your kilt skirt over jeans so much! ;)
Happy writing!

Rachael said...

This post isssss wonderful.

Bonnie said...

I enjoyed reading this post very much. Bonnie

noreen said...

this works for teachers too, who bring work home. did i mention i need to grade some papers? your mom sounds just wonderful, too. joy and happy writing! n

Simple Good Beautiful said...

I completely relate to all of this! Including the Trader Joe's Pounds Plus candy bars which in my opinion, is brain food.

I find that I suffer from writer's block more often lately. Which has required me to adapt by breaking out of my writing routine. Usually, after I've brainstormed my ideas, everything just flows from my fingers to the keyboard but lately, I have had to force myself to just write without any organization, just so I can get something down on the page.

A friend of my mine who knows me well once gifted me with a paperweight: "The ultimate inspiration is the deadline." It's on my desk right now on top of a stack of paper.

Jeanne Henriques said...

Absolutely ...loved every word but what I want to know is how you managed that lost shot....I have visions of a swinging chandelier. :)

Emily said...

My 15 year old son has always been good at writing, but now he is starting to get serious and more focused with it. He was just asked to join the school paper. I will be sharing this with him!

Sharron said...

Love your office where you work! That would inspire me - or perhaps distract me with it's loveliness!

I am a painter - and I find that painting is 90% thinking, 10% painting, so I spend a lot of time thinking and pining away over my canvases and then with a burst of knowing what I must do, rush to the canvas and make it happen!

ebkriley said...

I loved this-- thank you for posting it. I also write and do other art and crafts work. I think some of the points illuminate the creative endeavor in general, and I am always grateful for a chance to think about the creative process. Thanks for the inspiration, and now I must get back to work!

Anonymous said...

Ooh, this is wonderful.

And YES I'm so glad they mentioned being tuned into what you are wearing. I always feel quite shallow, but I'm very particular about that.

Clothing must be flowy enough that I'm not conscious of belly rolls and I can sit in odd yoga positions if I want. However, I must also put together an outfit enough with some thought and intention, so that I will then want to put together a few other things with similar thought and intention.

And hopefully those other things will have letters and punctuation attached. said...

LIsa, Lisa, Lisa,
You ALWAYS resonate with me! Perfect timing AGAIN. I started the bog I have thinking about & writing posts for in a journal for a year. I write in my special spot, sipping hot tea from my special mug, wearing my comfy writing clothes. ( Hope nobody stops by and sees this get up, maybe I should get a kilt) I have 5 posts now & would be honored & eternally grateful if you would take a look. Would whole heartedly welcome a look by any & all your astute readers as well. Yikes can't believe I am so bold, but this post seemed like an omen or sort of invitation to ask...I enjoy your bog tremendously! Thank you, Kelly

vicki archer said...

OH yes... this is brilliant Lisa... I can identify with many of those points... :)
Tell me... are you watching 'Girls'... I tried but couldn't quite get into it?? xv

Anonymous said...

So true! I just need an inbox on my writing desk that says "cat" and I'll be perfectly organized :)

angela said...

Getting started sewing or drawing is always the hardest! After that I find things go pretty smoothly.

Unknown said...

Yep, this resonates. As an editor I'm usually on the receiving end of these pieces of writing but I end up having to do a fair amount of writing in my job too. Essential to my process is music (as the first commenter noted) or NPR in the background - but it can't be too interesting or I'll actually listen :)

Hailie said...

Oh my goodness, I love love this post! Most excellent.

Unknown said...

So inspirational to view and read! I write emails in the office with many interruptions. My audience is limited to colleagues and customers, though I dream of being talented in this regard, really I am not. My very old friend Andrew is a writer. His latest book of poetry is entitled "Evidence that We Are All Descended from Chairs". Words are our friends, pictures, our lovers.

quintessence said...

Boy does it ever!! Your "checkity, check, check" says it all!!


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