Shauna Niequist on Good Writing Practices

Author of the book Cold Tangerines Shauna Niequist wrote a brilliant blog about the discipline of writing. Here is an excerpt:

Here is my advice for today: write regularly, before the great opportunity comes for you, so that when it comes, you are the best writer you can be–nimble, full of great words, rich images, and disciplined by the practices that work for you.

The last time I had written in any sort of structured way was college.  In the intervening years, I wrote when I felt like it, lazily and without structure.  I wrote until I was bored, or finished with that particular thought, did a quick re-read for glaring errors, and then I went on to something else.  All of a sudden, with Cold Tangerines, I had a monster deadline, and a blank Word document staring back at me, and I had to learn very quickly how to get the words on the page, no matter how blocked and scrambled I felt.

So my advice is this: develop a writing practice that works for you, and do it with discipline and regularity.  Write once a week, or every morning, or on the third Thursday of the month, or when the moon is full.  But whatever you do, don’t just write when you feel like it.  Write when you’ve said that you will.  This is important for lots of reasons.  First, it slaughters the idea that inspiration is everything.  Writing is work, and we will never write well as long as we think that something kooky and mystical has to happen in order for us to feel inspired.

I don’t feel inspired to change diapers in the middle of the night, but I do it. I don’t feel inspired to do the laundry, but when I finally do it, I find that there is something soothing about folding each item, smoothing it into a drawer, lovely-smelling and ready to be worn.  Writing, I find, is the same way.  I don’t necessarily feel filled with butterflies and genius when I sit down to do it, but a few hours later, I feel proud for having worked hard, both emptied and filled, both in good ways.  William Zinsser, in his great book On Writing Well, says that he doesn’t like writing, but that he very much enjoys having written.  Some days it’s like that.  People who run tell me that it’s the same way: you do it for the feeling you get when it’s over.

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