Sunday, May 13, 2012

Five Fundamental Practices That Professional Writers Lean On

Navigating a book is sometimes like traveling an unfamiliar pathway through murky waters.  Even though the scenery can be gorgeous--and inspiring--there are many times when the book writer is lost, confused, overwhelmed by all the options.

There are certain practices that help smooth the way.  They act like an internal compass for professional writers, who honor them without question.

They begin with willingness to ask for space, time, the privacy and solitude needed to do our writing.  How is this working in your life?

Creative People Require Creative Withdrawal 
Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, talks about predictable reactions artists get as they begin to request time for their art. “Such time, space, and quiet will strike our family as a withdrawal from them. It is.” She explains that if we don’t honor our need for the private time and space to create freely, we begin to die a slow death. Often we don’t recognize this is happening. Or we may shrug it off—What can a busy person do? Of course, family, job, life responsibilities cannot be ignored. But there’s a place for creativity too.

Virginia Woolf wrote an entire book about the basic human need to be creative and have your own space to do so. Reading A Room of One’s Own spurred me on during my first few books. I learned that not having time and space to write is an excruciating experience, as not only did my book abandon me, but I abandoned myself. Whenever I compromised my need to have privacy and writing time in a busy life, I soon lost the threads of my creative ideas. But worse, I began to feel discouraged, so much so that I doubted I was ever creative at all. Re-establishing a writing practice again slowly helped me regain confidence in myself and joy in my creative life.

Writer David Ogilvy, author of Confessions of an Advertising Man, joked that he’s developed certain ways of keep¬ing open “the telephone line” to his unconscious, in case that “disorderly repository” has anything to say. Poet and essayist Lewis Hyde speaks of the invocation that’s an essential part of any artist’s life. “Part of the work cannot be made,” he says, “it must be received.”

But receiving requires taking a stand against the demands of our lives. And this conflicts with our desire to be good people, contributors to society, supportive of our family, to say nothing of showing up for our job. “We want to be generous, of service to the world,” Julia Cameron says. “But what we really want is to be left alone. When we can’t get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves. To others, we may look like we’re there. We may act like we’re there. But our true self has gone to ground.”

Practicing art is a constant balancing act. How much time and energy you can devote to your book depends on your life responsibilities. Be realistic, but also realize that saboteurs come not only from without. They also come from within ourselves.

One way to keep a balance is to start small and negoti¬ate each stage. If you tell yourself you’ll write three hours each morning and know full well that life usually prevents that, it sets you up for failure. There is no benefit with man¬aging two days then giving up.

Build your writing practice gradually. Start with ten minutes a day for two weeks, the same time each day if possi¬ble. See if you can maintain this, get used to the new rhythm, grow confidence in your own trustworthiness and your own commitment.

What Are the Five Fundamental Practices?
So it isn’t talent that makes an artist succeed. Talented people fail all the time.

Success comes from practicing these fundamentals.  It also demands belief in yourself, persistence with your craft, within this good routine—setting aside regular, sacred time to make art.

To dedicate time, you must believe in your worth.  As the painter and author Frederick Franck wrote in The Awakened Eye, “You shall not wait for inspiration, for it comes not while you wait, but while you work.” You must believe your art is important and deserves your attention. So must your family and friends. I’ve found five ingredients that make a book writer’s practice successful.

If all five are in place, they will support and sustain the long journey.

1. Find and honor your best time to write.
2. Keep writing equipment private, secure, and in good working order.
3. Have a dedicated writing space.
4. Have a set time to write.
5. Close the door to the world when you are writing.

Use this week to upgrade your practices.  Be honest--assess how you're doing in each area.  If you are stuck, it might not be your determination or your material.  It might be your practices.
 Your Weekly Writing Exercise:  Practicing the Five Fundamentals
1.  Study each of these five practices.

2.  Honestly assess:  Which are in place in your life?  Which could be strengthened?

3.  Take one small step this week to create more support for your writing within one of these fundamental practices.


  1. I think these five fundamentals are wonderful tools and they helped me a lot. I loved number one and although it was difficult, I did change my schedule to honor my best time to write. The word honor seemed to make all the difference. The one I need to practice most is the last one - closing the door to the world when I'm writing.

  2. I'm retired, with a scatter-shot sort of schedule every day. I also write on the same pc I do all my email and surfing on.
    I think I might have number 2 OK, not the rest. Work to be done!

  3. Ravens,

    This is good information to have, and now you can make changes to improve the areas that need shoring up. We all do this! It's an ongoing process throughout the journey of writing a book.

    Thanks for visiting!

  4. Wonderful. I love the way you've included perfect quotes from other writers and artists in what we must do to believe in ourselves and give ourselves the time we need to create. Thank you!

  5. This is excellent advice, thank you!

  6. Mary,
    My solution to support a decision to write daily was to post a daily blog about an interest I am passionate about and want to improve at the same time: learning French. It was scary at first, what can you say about learning irregular verbs and taking classes in French? Amazingly, I have written over 179 entries (1 per day)and am now ready to revise the blog to match my pursuit of French and writing (in both languages). This practice conveniently and systematically taught me how to produce new ideas, how to make the time to write just a paragraph or two, and how to interact with family and stay on track. If your readers are interested, my blog is

  7. Suzan,

    Love your blog and your dedication to writing daily!

    Thanks for visiting,