Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Callahan and Andrews Share Their Best Advice for Writers

I was at a book signing recently at Foxtale Book Shoppe for Patti Callahan and Mary Kay Andrews.  Both authors talked about the craft of writing and how they became writers.  Andrews was already a journalist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution when she began writing her novels after hours.  Callahan began taking writing classes but didn't tell anyone until the two met up at a party and she revealed her "dirty little secret" to Andrews. Writing is one of those gifts that one is often shy about sharing  and she is not alone in her feelings.  In fact in the book, Making a Literary Life;  Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers, Carolyn Sees encourages writers to wait to share their work until they feel confident to do so.  As she puts it, "Write your stuff, hide it, let it stack up.  Reread it.  Don't worry about it.  Don't look for perfection.  To switch metaphors, your first writing is as delicate as a seedling.  Don't show it to some yahoo who wouldn't know an orchid from kudzu." I love this advice!  It is so important to have a support group for your writing.

Both authors were asked to share their best writing tip or technique and amazingly enough they both indicated the same thing:  Just do it.  Or as Callahan said "just sit your butt down in the chair and do it".  Overcoming that initial resistance is the biggest feat of all and the only way to do that is to press ahead and produce something. Carolyn See in a chapter entitled, "A Thousand Words Day" writes, "Anything to keep from writing, as they say.  That's why so many male writers commit adultery and female writers have clean houses because I did notice, when I was looking for the Chapstick, that the bookcases in the living room need dusting.  And there's a long list of groceries to buy out near the kitchen sink..."  She goes on for a whole paragraph about all the things she could and NEEDS to do instead of writing.  Haven't we all been there?  Right now with a deadline looming for a magazine column, I've already emptied the dishwasher, put in a load of clothes and considered vacuming the living room.  Not to mention fed the dog and taken her on a walk.  As Callahan says, "Just sit your butt down and do it!"

In the book, Writing on Both Sides of the Brain, Henriette Anne Klauser  writes about another obstacle for writers; hitting the wall.  She discusses the impulse to  stop writing just at a point of feeling resistance.  Her advice instead is to  press on through because often the resistance indicates that a great idea is just about emerge.  Klauser compares it to a mountain climber who begins fresh and eager only to feel like giving up just before reaching the summit.  The climber might say to himself, "Well I've made a good effort.  At least I've made it this far.  It's okay to quit."  The point though is that if he will just push that much farther, he will reach the top.  Haven't you felt this way? In more activities than just writing?  The exercise you start but stop just short of your goal?  The business you start but quit just before it becomes profitable? The chapter or article you write but stop just as you are getting into the flow?  How easy it is to sabotage our selves and give up, just before we reach the point of success!

What can you do to create an environment conducive to reaching the summit? Here are a few suggestions for writing:
  1. Set a specific time up for writing and don't vary it.  Don't schedule appointments during that day and don't allow yourself to heed the call of the "urgent" but unimportant tasks that call you.
  2. Set a specific word count or number of pages or task you must complete before you stop.  Don't talk yourself out of changing it "just this one time."
  3. Some writers work best in a particular environment.  Determine what this is for you.  Do you work best when you go on a retreat to a different place, or in a public coffee shop or at home?  Where are there the least distractions for you?
  4. Prepare your environment and your schedule the night before for maximum success.  Know what piece of writing you plan to tackle. Have your supplies and your resources already available so all you have to do is just begin writing. 
Are there other suggestions that have helped you reach the summit?  What are the major areas of resistance for you?  Let's all press forward through the resistance, bust through the wall and reach the summit!  I'm cheering for you!

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