“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.”
—J. D. Salinger, “A Girl I Knew”
Salinger wrote this line into a story about a Jewish girl in Vienna who died during WWII. In the story, the simple presence of a single human being held together the universe, and in her absence, that universe collapsed.
So goes the process of writing. Recently, I have been working with a small group of writers to help them get their writing projects on track and moving forward into productive pieces of fiction.
In all cases, these writers do not consistently follow the steps to successful writing:
Really that’s all there is to it. Writing isn’t just one person holding up the universe; that’s what we create in our writing. No, writing is creating the universe in the first place. There is no universe for a character to have such a massive impact if the writer didn’t create the universe, the balcony and the setting for that particular woman to stand there.
I once heard that writers are the creators of universes, and the more I think about it the more I believe that is very true. When my friends and I discuss the worlds created by Tolkien, Rowling and Lucas, the fact that writers are creators of the universe is incredibly clear. We create not just the world around us but we create the worlds we see in our minds. And those worlds are the ones we share with our readers; those are the worlds that capture the imagination and heart and hold up the universe.
And how does one achieve such a lofty goal as creating a universe?
The steps seem too simple to work, but I’ve found in every writing group I’ve taught that they work in every case. Write every day, even if all you have time for is 30 minutes. The key here is that the writing has to be every single day. When a writer touches a project every day, that warming up time disappears. After just a few days, that daily writing time becomes highly productive.
If a writer normally can only get 50 words on the page in 30 minutes, the productivity can easily increase to 100 words in 30 minutes. It’s the warm up time that changes. As writers, we sit at our desks, we look over our notes, we brainstorm what to write about today, then we look at the clock and see that 30 minutes have gone by. When we write every day, most of that disappears. The daily writer sits at the desk, remembers what she worked on yesterday, knows what she will work on today, and gets to it. It is as simple as that.
Read every day. Reading connects us to the world. There is not a day when I don’t read something that make me question, think deeply and discuss with others. Reading naturally gives writers the communication skills necessary to communicate. By reading frequently, we come into contact with a variety of writing styles, viewpoints and current events–all of which support our personal and professional growth as writers.
And keep the writing and editing separated. If you ever want to watch a total disaster in action, watch a writer jot down a few paragraphs then switch to editing. No more writing will occur during that time period. Writing and editing access different brain functions and different thought processes. No builder would install the studs for a new wall then choose the paint color; it mixes two different processes and stops the production of installing the new wall. Instead, write down everything. Even if it looks like vomit on the page (a line my college professor used to say–barf it all out), and after every word of that rough draft is down, then start into the editing and revising.
Follow these three simple steps and your writing will be smoother and your process more efficient. You will create universes which your characters will hold up and your readers will want to move into.
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