Tag: Writing

Disciplined Writing

Recent discussions about how historians write have emphasized once again that writing is not an inspired activity. Waiting for your muse merely disguises indolence.

As with any craft, writing improves with daily practice. Whether 3,500 words or 500 words or a page, stop making excuses and instead make time to write every day. Contrary to common assumptions, creativity increases with quantity. Research indicates that making writing a daily routine actually increases creativity. Carve out a few minutes every day to write inchoate ideas, sentences, and paragraphs. Write a lot. Revise what you write. Rinse and repeat. As the academic year approaches and promises to fragment the day, it is useful to recall that writing requires very little time.

Writing only Requires …

I can draft a scene on a cocktail napkin because writing only requires something to write with and something to write on. I have things to do. I have stuff to make. I have a life to live and I refuse to waste it on exact measurements and trial-and-error blog design.

This doesn’t mean I’m against seeking out better ways of performing specific tasks or enjoying the finer things, but there’s a time for screwing around and there’s a time for doing…and I’m tired of screwing around.

Tweaking isn’t creating. Tweaking is procrastinating. It’s a denial of responsibility to produce and it’s a common problem among the “productivity porn” watchers (of which I used to be one).

Harry Marks’s post, “Actually Getting Things Done,” is a useful reminder for anybody who claims to write, whether fiction or nonfiction, long-form or short. The perfect pen, paper, journal, word processor, text editor, computer screen, keyboard, etc. doesn’t change the fact that writing requires you to write. Searching for the perfect tool is procrastinating.

Making Creativity Routine

In his Warming up Patrick Rhone points to the value of writing anything first thing in the morning. He borrows from Julia Cameron’s “morning pages,” popularized in her book The Artist’s Way. Like Rhone, Roxana Robinson’s morning routine includes both coffee and writing. For Rhone, Robinson, and Cameron the morning routine awakens creativity.

Whatever mechanism links these morning routines to creativity, the key seems to be in establishing a routine. In “Blocked” Joan Acocella offered a number of examples of authors who were both creative and productive. In each case, creativity was subsumed under their routine. Maybe we need to invert our easy assumption: They didn’t write because they were creative. They were creative because they wrote.

The many studies by Robert Boice seem to reinforce the importance of routine—short, scheduled writing—not just for quantity but also the novelty or creativity (however that is measured). The act of writing stimulates creative thought, it seems (see this recent analysis and this one for further discussion and some numbers).

Perhaps we, students and faculty, should rely less on technological solutions, though there are many of those, and more on the low-tech and decidedly unhip routine.