A little background. Boyd Lemon has been kind enough to do this guest blog. He is a writer I met online. His memoir Digging Deeper (see below for more info) is a truly remarkable read. I usually have mixed emotions about memoirs. Some are great. Some are like chewing concrete. Most are ho-hum. Boyd's is astounding. I say this for several reasons. One, it is the story of his life and, in particular, his failed marriages - and he is remarkably honest and forthright in telling his story (honest writing usually equals good writing). Two, he takes you through the process of writing the memoir, which gives the reader insight into his process. And three, I genuinely think my life has improved as a result of reading this book. It forces you to look at your own relationships and priorities. Boyd took one for the team in this case because I am determined to avoid some of the mistakes he made...and was generous enough to share.
Without any further ado, here's Boyd's take on why you (as a writer...although I think much of the advice can be applied in other areas) should stop fucking around and start grinding.
WRITERS: HOW TO JUST SIT THE HELL DOWN AND WRITE
By Boyd Lemon
Sounds easy. If you want to write, well, sit down and write. You do your laundry when you want clothes to wear. You go to the grocery store when you run out of food. You call a friend if you're lonely. If you want to write, why don't you just sit down and write?
I‘m not going to answer that question, because I don't know the answer. I do know that, with rare exceptions for unique individuals that seem to be a different species, most of us who want to write sometimes or all of the time find it exceedingly difficult to find the time to write, to sit down and—in the words of a certain shoe manufacturer, "Just do it."
When it crosses our minds that we should be writing, instead we think of something we just have to Google; we must get those dirty dishes out of the way first. We haven't meditated yet today, and now is the perfect time. It's too noisy. We're expecting the washing machine repairman in a half hour (never mind that it's a four hour window that starts in a half hour, and the odds of him/her arriving at the earliest time are slim). We don't feel well. The lawn needs mowing, etc., etc. We'll write tomorrow. And tomorrow, we'll write tomorrow, and so on. And the ultimate—we're just too busy!
Then, finally we manage to sit down to write, and our brain freezes. Despite the numerous things we have thought about to write over the past month, nothing, absolutely nothing, comes to mind, as we sit in front of the computer or at our desk, pen and notebook in front of us.
I have been reasonably successful at overcoming this old bugaboo, and I want to share with any writer willing to pay attention. If this little article helps one writer to write, I will be thrilled.
It can be done in steps (not 12, just 7), and anyone, I mean anyone, can do it.
1. Write out a weekly schedule for one month in the future (preferably the next month) that does NOT include any time for writing. Be painstaking and realistic; that is, include everything that you feel you are obligated to do each week, including some time for recreation, and I repeat be realistic. This is a necessary step whether you work two jobs and take care of seven children, are a stay at home mom, a doctor, a lawyer or an Indian Chief. Don't forget to include sleeping and eating time, as well as personal hygiene (like a shower and brushing your teeth).
2. Study your schedule. Somewhere in there you can fit in some writing time, even if it is only a half hour a week. Write it in--be realistic. It is critical that in this early stage you don't over-commit, or you will fail. If the only time that appears realistic is Sunday morning before your husband gets up, schedule it then. An hour or two per day would be ideal, but if you don't realistically have that much time to spare, don't write it in. Schedule what is realistic. Schedule as many sessions as are practical, but each session should be no longer than a half hour at first. Ten minutes is enough.
3. Set up a place to write. It can be anywhere that is not too noisy and not apt to create too many distractions—from a dedicated room with an antique desk and a view of the ocean to a small table and chair in the corner of the kitchen. Stephen King wrote his first best seller at a small table in his service porch by the washing machine. It doesn't matter where, but you need a special place that will accommodate a computer if that is what you write on, or a notebook and pen, a chair and enough light to see.
4. This may be the most important step. Buy or get out an existing calendar, put it on your writing table or tack or tape it to the wall above your table, and write on it each time you have scheduled to write for that first month—in large letters and numbers, maybe even in red, and check it off later when you've done it.
5. Now, treat yourself to something you enjoy, but don't do often, that you can afford—a massage, a walk by yourself or with a loved one in a peaceful setting, an ice cream cone, a movie—you get the point. When you finish, pick a quiet place to sit down, and promise yourself that you will keep these appointments you have made to write just as if they were doctor's appointments or job interviews. Tell yourself they are among the most important appointments you have ever had in your life. They are, if it is important to you to write. And you are not fooling yourself; they are appointments—appointments with yourself, the most important person in your world.
6. Before your first writing appointment, pick a topic to write on for your first scheduled writing. It can be anything, and if nothing comes to mind, Google "writing prompts" or "writing topics", if you have to. But it can be anything—my first kiss, my last kiss, cornbread, I remember…., I don't remember…., my mother, my father, what is most important to me, what I love, what I hate. Anything! Repeat this process before each time you sit down to write. Don't wait until the time comes for your appointment.
7. When the time comes, get a timer or stopwatch, set it for the time you have set aside and put it on your table. If you don't want to see it while you write, turn it away from you. Sit down. Pick up your pen or turn on your computer. And start writing. Keep your hand moving on the page or your fingers moving on the keyboard. Don't stop until your timer or stopwatch goes off. Start over at the beginning if you have to. Don't worry that you are not staying on the topic. Right whatever comes into your head--funny, tragic, sad, detailed, whatever.
Do not read what you wrote, at least, not for a long time afterwards. I can assure you that most of it will be crap, but eventually there will be some gems there.
After the first month, if it is realistic, increase the number of sessions per week that you write, and increase the amount of time, slowly, gradually, and if and only if it is realistic. Most published writers write no more than one to three hours per day. Think about it: if you write one page a day, five days a week, or three pages a day, three times a week, you will have a book in a year, or less. After a few months, read what you have written. You will be surprised how good some of it is—and how bad some of it is. That's okay.
One other tip, I would like to pass along. Once you have established the routine—and it is a routine—of writing regularly, reach out to other writers and schedule writing practice with them on a weekly or even monthly basis if that is what is realistic. If you don't know any writer's, post on Craig's List; search MeetUp.com for writers’ groups in your area. I can almost guarantee you will find writer’s groups this way, unless you live in the Mojave Desert, and probably even then. Read aloud to each other what you have written—always with the understanding that anyone can decline to read aloud if he or she wishes. This practice will help you continue writing. It is harder to break an appointment with somebody else who is counting on you than to break one with yourself. And if you can, pick a pleasant place, a café you like, a courtyard, a garden.
Finally, for more inspiration on motivating you to write regularly, read Natalie Goldberg's books, Writing Down the Bones, Thunder and Lightning and Wild Mind.
-Boyd Lemon is the author of "Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages," a memoir about the author's journey to understand his role in the destruction of his three marriages. Available in paperback and ebook editions on Amazon.com, BarnsandNoble.com and by order from your local bookstore. Information, excerpts and reviews: http://www.BoydLemon-Writer.com.