Monday, August 24, 2009

weekly writing coach: hammock time!

These look like hammocks in this photo, don't they? But they're fishing nets, and they let me make my point this week: Sometimes your writing (and maybe your wrists) need a rest so you can gather ideas idly and, in the process, improve your craft. So in honor of the waning weeks of summer, here are 19 ways I get rested--and inspired--to write again, and better than the last time:
  1. Take a class that doesn't look anything like writing or language skills. Make art, learn to tango, find out how to cook crepes, try a new gardening skill (all things I've tackled personally)...anything but word use. Work the other side of your brain; the more visual, aural or hands-on, the better.
  2. Sleep. I hope I don't need to explain this. If I do, take a nap and figure it out afterward.
  3. Challenge your taste buds and try a completely different dish than you usually eat.
  4. Challenge your cooking skills and cook something completely different. Even better if you fail at it, frankly. You'll learn more.
  5. Take a driving trip, whether you're the driver or not. Be sure to look out the window instead of at your cellphone. (There's some evidence that the brain gets creative when it has lots of visual input, particularly when the visual input's moving toward you, as in a movie--try that, too--or the view when driving.)
  6. Exercise. You don't get enough if you write. Try a yoga class, take a walk, move. If you've been eating lunch at your desk, take a half-hour walk before you do.
  7. Read a genre you don't normally read: Poetry for the non-fictioner, free verse for the rhymer, mysteries for the manual-reader, short stories for the mega-novel-lover.
  8. Walk away from the lighted rectangle that is your computer. I'd try a week, but a weekend will do. Helps if you go somewhere with no Internet access, or are the driver on the driving trip (see above).
  9. Write by hand. See what happens when you put pen to paper. You remember pens. You remember paper.
  10. Clean your desk, files and piles. Toss all those piles and files that are composting while you ignore them. Enjoy a clear workspace and see what happens.
  11. Grab some perspective. Call an old friend, your mom, your spouse--someone you trust--and ask what they'd love to see you write about. If they don' t know, ask them what they'd love to read about. Don't argue with them. Just listen and absorb. I was told, for instance, to write humor. I love to tell a funny story and most of mine turn out to be true. It's a secret wish of mine to get back to that (okay, so much for the secret) and it was great to have it confirmed.
  12. Spend a day entirely on the visual. Read as little as possible and see as much as possible. What do you notice? What catches your eye? What does it make you think about? Take pictures, sketch, take video, or just look around.
  13. Spend a day immersed in sound. Listen: to people, birds, music, ambient sound. Talk less, listen more, ask questions and shut up and hear the answers. What stands out? What did you notice?
  14. Play. Start a meeting with some improv from "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?" or watch a standup routine on a DVD, or better yet, live. Get everyone you talk to engaged in sharing a funny story. Ask for recommendations on hysterical YouTube videos. No one's watching. Go ahead. Enjoy.
  15. Play with the clock. Do you normally give yourself an entire day/2 weeks/3 months to write something like a news release/short feature/essay/speech? Try to see what you can do in 15 minutes, or 30. If you're normally a quick-turnaround writer, take a day or a week on one piece. Yes, you can.
  16. Move your location for writing. Go sit somewhere else to write. Get out of your comfort desk zone, or that coffeehouse you hang out in, or your pajamas. Trade offices with someone. See what happens.
  17. Move your location, minus the writing. In many cultures, this is called a vacation. You can look it up.
  18. Change your approach. We fall into lots of habits and one is our daily path. So if you normally walk up to your office building the same way every day, divert your path. Approach from the long way around or a shortcut.
  19. Change your departure. Leave earlier, except from vacation. I can't possibly recommend leaving work later. Life's too short. Just promise me you'll use the extra time to contemplate what you notice that's different, how you feel and why.
Hammock time should net you some new insights into your process or your prose, and refresh you and your viewpoint at the same time. Feel free to share ways you've refreshed and rejuvenated your writing in the comments....after you try these ideas!

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