Ten Daily Habits That Make a Good Writer (redux)

I may have been talking to myself as much as anyone when I compiled “10 Habits That Make a Good Writer” that first appeared in the original edition of A Writer’s Book of Days. Flannery O’Connor calls it “the writing habit,” others call it a daily practice, like meditation, like yoga. We know a regular practice, done with intention, can have a powerful effect on our well being.

Here’s a short-list of the “10 Habits”
1. Eat Healthfully
2. Be Physical
3. Laugh Out Loud
4. Read
5. Cross-Fertilize
6. Practice Spirituality
7. Pay Attention
8. Give Back
9. Connect With Another Writer
10. Write

Writers, like other artists and creatives, are easily seduced by our work. The creative process really can cast a spell. We forget to eat, forget to sleep, forget to move our bodies; we isolate, become self-centered (the work is everything). I think we forget we’re merely human—physical beings in a physical world, fragile and susceptible to all manner of ills, of the body as well as the spirit.

Balance. That’s what the “10 Habits” mean to me. Taking care of our bodies, not taking ourselves so seriously, filling the well that we empty by doing our work, participating in the world we live in. Our creativity is a gift, whether it’s writing, visual art, dance, music, cooking a delicious meal, crafting a beautiful vase, building a cabinet, decorating a room—all these creative gifts are meant to be shared. Give back to the world and the world will gain in ways we may never know.

Writers need one another’s support because creating our particular art is a solitary act and who can better appreciate that than another writer. Who can better understand the particular rigors, joys and disappointments of writing than another writer? Who better to help puzzle out a problem or to know what kind of celebration is called for when a poem is finished or a story or a book, especially when the writer herself is pleased with the work?

And that last “habit,” number 10: “Write.” This is what I find many who want to write don’t do—write every day. Even if only for ten or fifteen minutes. Give it half an hour; who knows what can happen. If we don’t write every day (or at least five days a week), we lose touch with our writing muscles, our imagination goes a little brittle, words hide out. The worst part about not writing, especially when we intend to write but somehow just don’t get to it, we feel bad about ourselves; maybe a little guilty, maybe embarrassed or ashamed to admit to ourselves or others. When we feel bad about ourselves it’s more difficult to get the pen moving. So we may miss another day, and then the next. The more we don’t do it, the worse we feel and the harder it is to “just do it.” But, by simply putting pen to page every day, or fingers to keyboard, even if what we write is what Natalie Goldberg calls “the worst junk in America,” we keep the creative muscles limber and the self-esteem healthy. The more we write, the better we feel about ourselves not just as writers, but in other areas of our lives, and so the more we write and so it goes. Daily practice. No judgment.

Download the completer version of “Ten Habits That Make Good Writers” here: ten habits

Just Released . . . and are we excited!

The Lively Muse
Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers
Featuring A Writing Prompt for Every Day

Finally, a desk calendar that’s devoted exclusively to your daily writing practice. No matter how many meetings, appointments and “to-dos” you have on your various iCals, Google calendars, wall calendars, desk calendars, calendars magneted to your refrigerator, and written in ink on the palm of your hand, The Lively Muse’s Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers will keep your writing date front and foremost, where it should be.

We know some writers need a little help getting started. That’s why we’ve provided a prompt for every day. Just like the prompts in the original A Writer’s Book of Days and the Revised Edition released in 2010, the all-new prompts in the Daily Appointment Calendar for Writers are guaranteed fresh, guaranteed evocative, and guaranteed to get the pen moving or the fingers flying.

Continue reading

20 Ways to Make It Better — Way # 8

#8—Embrace language

Language is more than words. It is music and rhythm, sound, and rhyme, texture and layers. Language is art and graffiti, attitude and place, geography and history. Language is family and what you heard at the kitchen table and on the back porch and hollered up from the stairs on a Saturday morning. Language is what you do with words and it is the silence between the words.

“Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no name,” said Toni Morrison.

Savor it. Roll vowels around in your mouth and hold consonants between your teeth. Place metaphors beneath your tongue.

Go for the figurative. Be poetic. Find the fresh way to describe something. Use at least one surprising word in every sentence. Read poetry beneath a full moon, in your car while you’re stuck in traffic, to your pillow before you go to sleep. Say words out loud because you love the sound of them. Keep a bowl of words on your writing table. Snack food.

Write 25 words for rain, 15 for wind, 33 for love and 6 for the way new grass feels under your bare feet. Write 11 words for feet.

Weed out clichés and word packages. What’s a cliché? My teacher told me, “If you’ve heard it, read it, or used it before… it’s cliché.” What’s a word package? A phrase that’s too familiar, too overused, not exactly a cliché, but close enough to to call family. Make it fresher.

Study authors you love to read and whose language resonates with you. Copy passages into your notebook so you sense the physicality of their language. When you come upon phrases that make you catch your breath, write them down. Use them as prompts for your writing practice.

Use the language of your fears, give voice to your terrors, call them up in the night and name them. Do this too with your joys and your pleasures. Write in the language of your prayers.

“Language is the only homeland,” said Czeslaw Milosz.

Know this: You will spend your whole writing life creating the language with which to tell your stories.

When was the last time language stopped you in your tracks? Whose use of language do you admire?

(A Writer’s Book of Days has more to say about words and language.)