Inspiration at the bottom of a coffee cup #amwriting

I suppose most people start their days with coffee or tea. I prefer the former and I make myself a large cup of coffee every morning. I turn on my laptop while the coffee brews and get my breakfast ready, although that is optional while the coffee is not.

lonely tree b&w
A lonely tree at the bottom of a coffee cup.

It takes about one or two sips before I wake up properly. I have the bad habit of reading the news while I eat. I browse a few online news websites and check my emails. I find it easier to respond to emails with a fresh dose of caffeine coursing through my veins. Once I get to all the emails and send some of my own, I slowly – and I mean slowly – get to work.

What I do in the mornings largely depends on what I am currently working on. If I have any revisions in progress, then that is what I start with because I find it easier to get into revising than writing. I re-read any comments or suggestions from the editor or any notes I left when I last read the text and start from there. Editor notes are invaluable as they see your text from a different point of view, and even if one doesn’t agree with what they have to say, their suggestions might still spark a new idea or offer inspiration.

Around ten o’clock, the first dose of caffeine has long been used up and I brew a fresh cup. I’m a sweet-tooth, so I raid the cupboards for a dessert to go with it. A smallish one, of course, as I prepare a quick lunch around noon. Sometimes it’s just a sandwich, sometimes a salad. It is unavoidably followed by another cup of coffee.

If I was editing in the morning, I try to switch to writing in the afternoon because I find it more stimulating to mix things up a bit. It gets tedious to revise a text all day long, except if I’m on a tight deadline and I don’t have a choice. At the moment, I’m working on a vaguely dystopian YA I’m not sure yet where it is going to go. I’ll let it surprise me and allow the characters to lead me wherever they want to.

stack of papers
My latest manuscript.

I try to write 1500 to 2000 words by four o’clock, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it’s just 200 words, but if it’s a difficult passage or the part turns out to be really good, I’m just as satisfied with it as I would be with 2000 words that need heavy revisions.

At five past four I rush to wash up the coffee cups that fill up the sink before Husband comes home and gives me a lecture on the negative effects of too much coffee. After we eat dinner, I innocently suggest we could have a nice cup of coffee. He eyes me suspiciously, but he’s long learned not to ask how many I’ve already had. 😉

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Books on writing

I’ve always been interested in the academic aspect of writing, not just the practical craft. That’s why I enrolled in a Master’s study in writing. For that, I read quite a few books about writing. Some discussed the practical aspects, some delved deep into the meaning of writing, some detailed the process itself… They helped me get to know myself as a writer, and writing as an art, a craft and business.

I’ll discuss a few here, hoping that you might find a useful or entertaining book, too, one that will help you the way they helped me.

The very first book on writing that I read was Becoming a writer (1934) by Dorothea Brande. It’s an oldie but goodie. It discusses everything from plotting and finding inspiration, to how to establish habits that will help you write regularly and well. I think it’s particularly helpful in this last respect, discussing the discipline required to become a writer.

fireinfictionAnother very helpful one, perhaps the most helpful of them all, was The Fire in Fiction (2009) by Donald Maass. Mr Maass is a successful agent with an awe-inspiring list of authors. Some think him writing books about writing is something to be frowned upon seeing how he’s an active literary agent, but I think it’s rather generous of him to be willing to share his vast experience. His book (he’s written many others, but I find this one the best) is extremely helpful when you have a great storyline, but your novel lacks that spark that makes it great prose. He discusses how to imbue your writing with life. Great suggestions and examples are included.

onwritingA less theoretical and a more inspirational take on writing is Stephen King’s On Writing (2001). It’s a delight to read, especially because King shared details and events from his life that helped him develop into the great writer that he is today. Worth re-reading several times.

If you’re looking for a basic guide on writing, Kate Grenville’s The Writing Book (2010) is for you. It was a bit of a disappointment for me because it’s so very general and basic, but if you’re just starting out, this one might help you put the first words to paper.

If you need very specific advice, check out Jessica Bell’s work. She wrote a set of booklets about how to tackle adverbs, showing instead of telling, cliches and how to express the six senses through words. The collection consists of four books or this all-in-on edition Writing in a nutshell (2014). Apart from theory, she includes numerous exercises to practice your craft.

birdbybirdBird by Bird (2007) by Anne Lamott tackles every topic, from finding inspiration, getting the words on paper, to getting the first rejections and how to cope with them without giving up your dreams of having your work published. Instead of exercises, she uses reflection and guidance to welcome the readers into the world of writing.

If you’re looking to know more about inspiration and how it works, check out Writing in Flow by Susan K. Perry. She discusses writing in flow or writing ‘in the zone’, how to achieve it and what it means for the creative process.

 

If I had to choose just one of the above books, I’d say The Fire in Fiction was most helpful. But On Writing by King is a close second.

Do you have any favorite books on writing? What did you learn from them? I’d be grateful for any tips or links, if you’re willing to share. 🙂

2000 and counting

Until a few months ago, every time I read other writers’ blogs, I found myself under a lot of pressure. It seemed like every author under the sun had a habit of writing at least 2000 words per day, every day. I tried doing it too. And it worked. I got more writing done than before. Sometimes I wrote passages that I was quite impressed with when I re-read them days later, and sometimes I wrote utter crap. But I wrote (at least) 2000 words every day.

Like I said, it got the job done. But for me, it sucked the joy out of writing. There was just too much pressure to sit down and write even when I had no idea what to write, no new scenes, no new developments to introduce into the plot. Being self-employed for almost a decade was in the end what helped me realize that I was the only one pressuring myself and that I had the power to stop it. I was my own boss and I had the right and the responsibility to set myself my own goals and methods of writing.

I still write 2000 words per day, almost every day. But sometimes, for me, writing means lying on the couch, with the shutters closed, in silence, thinking. I need the peace to let my mind work out the next step in the story or solve the glitches in the plot. I can’t do that while typing five useless paragraphs just to reach my daily goal. Maybe the day after I’ll write 3000 words, but for me, there must be days when I write absolutely nothing. I think of those days as pampering my soul. Resting it, re-energizing it for the next bout of crazy, inspired writing. From time to time, being lazy can be very productive. 😉

What is your writing method? Do you have any rules about when, how, how much you write? Do you prefer pen and paper or laptops? What gets you inspired?