Beware Best Practices

unnamed-4How do you write (or create or anything)?

This question gets asked of every person who proclaims themselves to be a writer, famous or not. The more famous ones often share their formula’s for success.

Do this …¬†and you will be published and make millions?

Well, maybe that is a slight exaggeration.

We often look to best practices in many different areas. For instance, one could look at research and seek out statistics and believe they have found the best practice for whatever the subject is and we will be successful. The problem is that if you only follow someone else’s practice, you will never know what works best for you or how capable you are.

I, myself, have followed some of these ‘best practices’:

Julia Cameron (The Artist Way) recommends writing three longhand pages each morning just as the day begins.

Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones among others) describes freewriting to be something akin to neutralizing the inner critic.

Anne Lamont (Bird by Bird) speaks to writing shitty first drafts as a way to remove the idea of perfection.

These are just a few of the best practices I’ve followed. I managed to follow Julia’s recommendations the best, but even that has fallen by the wayside. Although, I still believe in the shitty first drafts because anything else would be paralyzing.

Dorothea Brandt (Becoming a Writer) talks about writing first thing in the morning. She even goes so far as to say that if you need caffeine to wake up, make up a thermos full of yerba mate tea, so you waste no time in getting to your desk. I’ve only gone so far as to make my coffee pot ready the night before.

And, then there is Stephen King (On Writing) who gives some of the most interesting advice: Read a lot; Write a lot. Again, this can be challenging if life sometimes (always) gets in the way.

What I’ve discovered is that some things work sometimes, and other things work at other times. Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA describes the process as iteration, which means to decide on a variable and see what works for you. Of course, it is more complicated than that so I would recommend you seek out her website if you want to know more.

While I believe in this, and in the rest of the ‘best practices,’ all of these feel a bit too restricting.

The past year has had its ups and downs, and my writing life has followed suite. The lessons learned have been ones that will (hopefully) carry me throughout my career.

Please do not consider the following a list of the ‘best practices.’ Take from the following lessons which ones work for you:

  1. Be kind to yourself. If you have a day where writing (or whatever you are working on) isn’t working, let it go. Come back tomorrow and try again.
  2. All writing counts. Whether it is a journal entry, a scene of your WIP, or a to-do list. Give yourself credit for facing the page.
  3. If the work you have in front of you refuses to cooperate, change the scenery. This change of scenery can be as simple as grabbing a pen and writing longhand or as vigorous as going for a walk. Your brain will thank you for the change.
  4. Do one thing every day to step closer to your goal. Take baby steps if you must. Read a few pages in a writing book or a scene (or two) in a book you admire. Peruse Pinterest and pin a few ideas. Cut out interesting articles from magazines or newspapers. The idea is to keep the mind flowing creatively even if the words won’t come.
  5. Sometimes you need a good ‘bitch’ session. Regardless of whether you choose the screen or paper, write down all the reasons you hate writing that day or the issues with the world. The benefits are twofold. All that negative energy gets out of your head, and you can look at your world with a clear head. And, you’ve put words on paper (see lesson #1).

While I have goals I want to accomplish each day, and I recommend that everyone have them, I’ve learned to give myself a break if life becomes too overwhelming. It won’t help to reach your goals if you hate what you do.

What are some of your ‘best practices’?