Writing Ritually and Habitually

Some writers can write anywhere, anytime, under any conditions. Some of us need routine. And some of us have obsessive compulsive rituals we need to follow for any writing to happen. I am pretty adaptable in my habits but I do have preferences. This is my favorite way to write:

Place: I recently converted part of my finished basement into a writing space and art studio. Prior to that, I was sharing a desk with my husband in an alcove of our bedroom and using the kitchen counter for art projects. I’m sure you can imagine the mess I was making. In the basement studio —I call it my subterranean lair, because in my head I am a superhero— I have sliding glass doors and a large double window for natural light and lots of plants just outside for a view of nature as well. I have a long countertop area to use for drawing and an area for my computer and monitor at the other end. My easel stands in front of the window for my canvases. This setup keeps my on my feet for not just for art but for writing, too. Standing is my preferred posture; it’s better than sitting on your kiester all day. Trust me, I‘m a doctor— at least until August 31st! Besides that, it makes it easier to move around. If I’m working out a scene in my head, I might pace or dance around if I have music playing. And that is definitely a healthy habit to have!

Time: I seem to have all my best ideas in the wee hours of the night, and alas, so many of them are gone by morning. However, when something truly inspired wakes me up, I have a notebook and pen nearby so I can tiptoe to the bathroom and scribble it down. As for my lengthy writing sessions, I prefer to start first thing in the morning, write for at least an hour or two and break off for my exercise; I usually don’t write in the middle of the day. I also may write in the evenings, just before bed, but often that leaves me unable to turn my brain off for sleep. Not cool; I love sleep.

Music: I like to write with music on in the background, but it isn’t absolutely essential. Complete quiet is fine, too. When I do have music on, it is usually classical, jazz, or soft electronic music. The only time that changes is if I’m writing something ‘energetic’ like an argument, a comedic scene or a big revelation. In that case, I might put on dance music or loud rock. Under normal circumstances, though, I get too distracted with the lyrics. For drawing and painting, I choose my music based on the mood of the piece I want to create. Sometimes, it’s not even music but nature sounds that make the backdrop to my artwork.

Beverages: Early morning writing requires coffee, at least two cups. And by cups, I mean giant mugs. If I find myself writing in the afternoon, then I have tea. And after 5:00, well it’s happy hour, right? Seriously, though I don’t over-imbibe while I write. Occasionally, a whisky or a pint is a little lubrication for the creative mind, but too much of that and you end up with a mess on your hands and a whole lot of rewriting to do! (See this episode of Drinking Adventurously for more on that subject).

Goals: In paying attention to the habits of other successful writers like Stephen King, Lisa Scottoline, John Grisham, and Nora Roberts, the single habit they all share is setting writing goals. Perhaps it is as vague as ‘a page a day’ —if you are writing a page that is filled with dialogue, that might not be very many words, whereas a scene-setting narration with lots of description might have a high word count. Other goals may be specific to word count, chapter completion, character development or plot resolution. My goals are usually tied to plot resolutions. In other words, I write until I finish up a scene at an appropriate spot. It isn’t always the end of a chapter, but that is most often the way it ends up.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in writing these past four years, there is not a right way or a wrong way to write, as long as you keep writing! Tell me, fellow writers, what are your rituals?

Beautiful People

She was beautiful, but not like those girls in the magazines. She was beautiful for the way she thought. She was beautiful for the sparkle in her eyes when she talked about something she loved. She was beautiful for her ability to make other people smile, even if she was sad. No, she wasn’t beautiful for something as temporary as her looks. She was beautiful deep down to her soul. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and television watching lately. I think my brain needs a rest from all the chaos that my life has been for the last couple of months. It has not been a good summer. Anyway, even when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. So my entertainment choices made me ponder the way I write my characters.

Sometimes, I can read about a character and fall in love with them without even having a detailed description of their appearance. I find them attractive through their actions and dialogue. Or, after a description in the beginning which may not portray them as particularly handsome or beautiful, I will forget as I am drawn in by their personality. Intelligence, kindness, sense of humor, and a well-rounded education (not necessarily formal) are also very appealing. Most recently, I realized this in watching Endeavor on Masterpiece. Shaun Evans, who plays Inspector Morse as a young man, is not a classically handsome man, but I as I grew to love the character, I began to find him very attractive as well.

Shaun Evans via IMDb

Over the course of five novels and numerous short stories, I have fallen into the habit of writing all my main characters as physically beautiful. While I have also tried to imbue them with those other fine qualities I mentioned, I haven’t let them stand on their own. To grow and mature as a writer, I need to create characters who are beautiful deep down to their souls.

Header image via Google images.

Tools of the Trade – Style Guide

When I started writing, I also started reading about writing. There is no shortage of material available, believe me! I think it’s possible that you can get obsessed with the how to’s and never get around to doing it. Nevertheless, as per my copyediting workshop, I added a new tool to my author arsenal: a style guide. I had a copy of Elements of Style by William Strunk –a classic. However, it is a bit outdated, having been printed in 1918! I decided to move into the twenty-first century and upgrade to The Chicago Manual of Style.

So what is the purpose of the style guide? It sets standards for usage, writing and citation styles, and formatting. This results in consistency of writing style within a company. The type of style guide used is determined by the sort of material being published. For example, in book, newspaper and magazine publishing, the company will likely require The Associated Press Style Book or The Chicago Manual of Style, while in the fields of law or medicine, the copyeditor will use The Blue Book or The AMA Manual of Style respectively. These will include terminology specific to the profession.

An example of the standards set by a style guide is in the way numbers are written. Numbers can either be spelled out (ex. three) or written as numerals (ex. 86) and the style guide will determine how this is done. The Chicago Manual of Style requires numbers from one to one hundred to be spelled out as well any number that consists of only two words (ex. seven hundred). Once you know the rules as laid out by the style guide you are using, you can apply them throughout your entire article or manuscript to keep the writing consistent.

Along with my dictionary–I use Merriam-Webster–my Chicago Manual of Style has already proved very useful. I highly recommend the investment.

Wishing you happy writing and productive editing.