writer's book of days

I don't always write every day, but when I began writing for money many years ago, I did work daily at my craft. There are good reasons to put in the time as regularly as humanly possible: what becomes a habit is easy to begin each time, thus avoiding the competing habit of procrastination.

And of course, the only way to get better (and better) at your creative work is to practice, practice, practice.

A couple of recent books can help your creative output become more natural and routine.

Judy Reeves, a writing teacher and creativity coach, has revised her popular book, A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life, adding fresh prompts, resources, advice, and inspiration. Many sections are thought-provoking, such as the February page on the difference between "writing practice" and "journal writing." According to Reeves, "Writing practice is focused, creative writing on a topic," and meant to be public, at least potentially,.whereas in a journal you process your emotions and express yourself privately. The difference could be merely semantic, but still it may be useful to consider the different kinds of openness you allow yourself in your various forms of writing.

I don't always agree with Reeves' opinions, as, for example, when she slaims that it's advisable to write by hand, or at least try it for a month's practice.  Reeves suggests that "handwriting is alive" and "you're more connected to your feelings when you write by hand."  I haven't found that to be true in my own work nor for the many successful writers I've interviewed who prefer computers.  As always, be your own boss and decide what works for you.  

Other sections discuss writers and their day jobs, how to go "deeper," and mapping the page, including useful suggestions such as marking your periods so you can see with a quick scan whether your sentence lengths vary.

Here are a few samples of the writing prompts you'll find in A Writer's Book of Days:

  • These are the things I saved.
  • She was the kind of woman who...
  • After the last guest left.

Living Write

Another inspiring guide, this one with a strong psychological component, is Living Write: the secret to inviting craft into your daily life by professional counselor Kelly L. Stone. It includes an instructional CD with guided exercises.

Stone's advice on "acting as if you are confident" makes sense in the context of my own research on how writers enter flow.  One of my findings is that successful, resilient writers have a kind of writer's confidence, which is not the same as feeling sure you can go out and conquer the world, but rather that you can bounce back and keep going no matter what reception the world accords to any one piece of writing.

Stone's remarks on dealing with rejection are excellent, whether or not you refer to your cognitive process as "self-talk." What you need to do is take every criticism or rejection and see which (if any) parts are useful, and then proceed to improve your craft to the best of your ability. This is about your locus of control: is it internal?  If so, then you'll continually ask yourself: How can I improve?

Copyright (c) 2011 by Susan K. Perry

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