I write a lot these days.
I write here at Preacher on the Plaza. I write sermons (that I always don’t publish) for churches where I’m preaching. I write for the Feed the Children blog called BEYOND where we tell the stories of the good work of this humanitarian organization. And, I am a contracted ghost writer for several folks– helping them craft their ideas into pieces to be shared with a large audience.
So how do you do it? I am by no means an expert but this is what I’ve come to claim about the writing life:
1. You must write a lot.
Write with a journal. Write with a computer. Write with scraps of paper. Write when you don’t feel like it. Write when you do.
As much as any of us might have a natural inclination for words and beautiful sentence structure, we all still have to learn the craft. We all still have to write shitty rough drafts as Anne Lamott would say. There’s no short cuts to your 10,000 hours of practice as my tutors at the Collegeville institute taught me.
2. Write during your most creative time of day.
For me this is annoyingly the moment I put my head on my pillow at night. I lay there and my head floods with topics for new blogs or ideas for how I want to arrange the chapters of book project or an opinion column for a religious blog. I try to fight it, telling myself to forget until morning. But, usually such a declaration doesn’t work. So, I say, if creativity calls, run with it. Get up out of bed and do it. (Just don’t publish a blog after 11 pm. Most I know are usually sorry for this in the am).
3. Write with heart.
Readers will forgive a multitude of grammar sins if they see the person behind the copy. Especially in persuasive writing (which is what I mostly do), I believe readers want to know you personally care about what you describe. There’s nothing worse to read, I think, than a journalistic type writer trying to give you the facts and then expecting you to care when you have no idea if the writer cares first! Caring of course don’t have to explicit. People know if you do or don’t implicitly.
4. Make friends with other writers.
Other writers speak your language so listen. Non-writers just don’t see prose they way a writer does. My mom or my husband, for example, will read my stuff and will often comments in helpful ways, but their feedback is never as a good as that of my writing friends. Fellow writers will say I had “a nice turn of phrase” or “this theme connection really made the essay work” or “I didn’t start liking you as a character until half way through the chapter.” Also make friends with writers of other genres than your own. This is one of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed being a part of the Feed the Children copywriting team so much Maybe my sentences don’t need to be so complex after all . . .
5. Do not be afraid of the delete button.
When I began writing sermons every week, I felt anxious about cutting large chunks of the piece out. It is so easy to be in love with your own words. It was so sad to see a paragraph go that I would cut and paste it into another word document hoping to come back to it later. The funny thing is that I NEVER would need it. Sometimes the delete button can be your writing project’s very best friend. Tear the band-aid quickly though and you’ll .
And, most of all read about writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is one of my favorites.
(Maybe some of these ideas are not only good for writing but any art form?)