Guest Post by Midge Raymond
As writers, we’re told that in order to succeed, we must write every day—but of course, this isn’t realistic or feasible for most of us; we have families, day jobs, and other responsibilities that can get in the way of a daily writing practice.
As an author with a busy schedule, I’ve found that it’s not necessary to write every single day—but what is necessary is to think like a writer every day. This is the idea behind Everyday Writing: the notion that it’s as important as a daily writing regimen to open our eyes and ears just a little wider than the next person—to take in everything happening in the world around us, including in our own inner worlds, all of which provides the richest material we’ll ever need.
Here are a few tips—with corresponding writing prompts—to help you better train yourself to be an Everyday Writer…even when you don’t have a lot of writing time at hand.
1. Look. So often in everyday life we find ourselves occupied with our cell phones when we could be observing what’s happening around us. Do your writer-self a favor and keep the cell phone tucked away: Look around instead.
PROMPT: Next time you’re in line somewhere (the grocery store, the post office, etc.), look around you. Choose a nearby person and write a character sketch based on this person (if you’re not able to write in the moment, take mental notes and jot them down as soon as you’re able).
2. Listen. We often shut out the world around us (and often this is necessary), but in doing so we also risk missing some interesting tidbits of life. Make a point of opening your ears to what’s going on around you—and use it to launch a new piece of writing.
PROMPT: As with the prompt above, the next time you’re in line somewhere—or waiting for the doctor or dentist—listen to the conversations going on around you. Choose a snippet of dialogue and write it down, turning it over to your own imagination (again, if you’re not able to write in the moment, take mental notes and jot them down as soon as you can)
3. Retreat. You don’t need to fill out applications or travel far to do a writing retreat; all you need is the time and a little space. The time can be anywhere from two hours to two weeks; the space can be a cabin in the woods or corner of the kitchen table. The important thing is to create the time for Writing Only.
PROMPT: Write about what you would do with an entire weekend devoted to writing. Be as detailed as possible. Next, whittle that down to what you can do in a day, then an hour. Then, make the room in your schedule for whatever fits
4. Innovate. One of the things necessary to keep your writing going is to keep it fresh, from the project itself to your writing space to your routine.
PROMPT: Take a close look at your project, your writing space, and/or your routine. Find a way to tackle it from another angle, whether it’s adding a character or cleaning your work space to getting up an hour earlier. And whenever you find your writing, space, or routine slowing you down, shake it up again.
5. Write. This has to happen no matter what, so just do it. Keep in mind that writing can take many forms—if you’re taking notes, you’re moving forward on your project; if you’re doing character sketches in line at the post office, you’re writing. Not all writing has to be of the 1,000-words-of-my-novel-daily variety—be flexible, be kind to yourself, and keep going.
PROMPT: Write a list of writing-related tasks that inform your project but that don’t involve creating new work—such as web research, travel, interviews, reading, watching documentaries. Keep this list handy and turn to it whenever you have extra time for your project but don’t have the creative energy to compose new work.
Midge Raymond is the author of Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life and the story collection Forgetting English, which received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her work has appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Visit www.MidgeRaymond.com for more information and to subscribe to her free email newsletter for writers.