There are many ways of holding your most valued instrument – the pen – as there are many ways of making an impression on the page. While there is a right and wrong way to hold a pen—let’s face it, everyone types these days.
The following are not tips for better holding a writing instrument, but rather ideas and notes that have been learned over a lengthy period of time. Working out one’s craft takes perseverance, commitment, and an incredible amount of patience.
When it comes to writing, our imagination is our greatest asset—it is the artist in us wanting to make art. The following are common challenges that writers encounter, along with general tips and suggestions.
LOCATION Don’t overthink or romanticise the location you choose to sit and write at. Few people get to sit before a large bay window overlooking fields of long green grass swaying melodiously in a light breeze. Fewer yet get to look out on dunes of sparkling sand under a blazing sun poised in a vast cloudless sky stretched out over miles of ocean. Sometimes the best writing sessions happen in the most unlikely of places—on a hospital laundry cart cover for instance (true story). Sadly, beautiful scenery often serves as a distraction. Get as comfortable as you can and tell the story.
GOOD DAYS VS BAD DAYS The industry offers many lessons, not the least of which is: make your today better than your yesterday, and your tomorrow better than your today. Keep challenging yourself. Keep growing. Keep exploring. Don’t look back. Keep on going. No matter what.
SCHEDULES How does a writer work with a schedule when ideas and inspiration can strike at any time of the day or night? The creative flow often shows up during shift work, kid’s birthdays, and (especially) during vacations. To survive the onslaught: take the pressure off. Compartmentalize ideas often. Become familiar with the muse’s subtle clues, and jot notes down whenever possible. Writing is a demanding job. It is what it is. Laugh about it. Enjoy it.
THE BLOCK The dreaded writer’s block. It is as though the earth opens up and swallows the ground between you and where you need to go, creating a chasm that is deep, wide, and impossible to cross. You can see the other side but you can’t get there. It is difficult to determine the exact reason behind the block, but there are ways to counter it. If the mind is stuck and needs a reboot, try taking a long nature walk. Monotonous exploits do wonders to clear overwhelming thoughts. A walk in the park can change the working of our brains, lower the level of stress hormones, and can quiet certain areas of the mind. If the emotions are clogged, try hitting the gym. Studies show a link between exercise and brain neurotransmission. Exercise produces a number of physiological reactions in the body including changes in mood. As a bonus, endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body. Though walking and exercise may not completely release the block, it can help to shorten the duration of it.
FLOW The greatest challenge when writing a book is to flawlessly connect all of the dots from the beginning to the end. Style has a lot to do with how this is accomplished, but so does vision. We tend to write as we see. Sometimes we see the story’s beginning, but the middle of the story is scattered about like the pieces of a puzzle, and the end of it is uncertain. Sometimes we see the middle of the story, but the beginning and the end are unclear. There are endless variables to this problem. Without flow there is no story. How do you find the flow? Whether it is a light trickle or a rushing flood, the basis is the same—and it is trust. The flow simply means focus—it is emphasis, attention, effort and concentration. Finding the flow is synonymous with trusting the process and trusting yourself.
THE MUSE An amazing article was published in the New York Times titled, This Is Your Brain on Writing (June 20, 2014). The brains of novice writers vs the brains of expert writers – the brains of expert writers appeared to work differently even before they set pen to paper. What does this have to do with the muse? Deep inside the brains of expert writers, a region became active. This same region, however, was quiet in the brains of novice writers. Could this ‘inner voice’ area of the brain be home to the muse? The studies are fascinating. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/science/researching-the-brain-of-writers.html?mcubz=3 The muse enjoys surprises—plot twists—drama—scandals. He/she/it can be quite loud at times and almost impossible to ignore. This is the muse. The signals. The sparks. The surreal voice that sends us messages and seems to come from somewhere deep inside the subconscious.
CRITICS Critics have no credentials. Period. People with credentials tend to offer positive criticism that lets you know what is not working, and sometimes what is working, but most times they point out what is not working out for you. Use the information to better yourself. You can alter your presentation by listening to your critics. They can help you find your authenticity. The best rule of thumb is this: focus on the path, not on the obstacles. Your critics don’t do what you do – they just talk about it. Don’t take that personally.
Above are just a few noteworthy mentions but the list of challenges that writers face can go on and on. Time is the best educator and experience is the greatest personal trainer. Over the years, fine-tuning and adapting to the unrelenting and demanding call of being an author can only be described as worthwhile.
Though the struggle can easily be shared publicly, the labour and the effort to get ‘there’ can’t be taught—it must be journeyed.
The story develops a life of its own, allow it
Listening for the story becomes an obsession
Bridges will appear, trust that
Rivers flow in one direction, so should your story
You truly are your worst critic, so breathe
Life is the greatest story of all, honour yours every day