In the June issue of WIHE, I wrote an article about how to start a writing practice this summer. In part two of this special series, I've collected advice from an amazing team of women writers. Several members of the WIHE team have joined together with a group from the International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG), a community whose mission is to “empower, enlighten, challenge, and engage women writers,” to offer you words of writing wisdom. (The IWWG's site is https://www.iwwg.org/.)
If there's a voice in your head that's been whispering about bringing your writing into the world, now is the time to listen. Your words are needed more than ever. Whether your goal is to write professionally or creatively, privately or for publication, read on to find some wisdom to move you forward in your writing journey.
The practice I come back to time and again is setting a daily word count. What this means is that I'll decide that I need to write 500 words a day for an article or larger project like a book. I only have to write 500 words, but this can take me an hour or two or it can take all day. Either way, that's my writing for the day, so when I finish, I'm done for that day. Word count is the best way to trick me into writing, and often I end up writing more than my required 500. It's my way to get my writing started when I'm stalled.
When I'm beginning a new writing project, it helps me to ask three questions: What? So what? and Now what? So often, we get a vague sense that “I ought to be writing.” It's kind of haunting, actually. It never says, “Do this specifically.” It never delivers the table of contents. That's how the muse operates. She rings the doorbell and hands you a title, if you're lucky. The rest is up to us. The last “What?” I asked myself ended up being a memoir—a spiritual memoir about the transformation of a young Catholic suicidal lesbian into a prophetic post‐theist mystic. The “so what” question reaffirms that there is a multitude of young marginalized women who feel like outcasts from their church and culture. The “now what” question keeps me focused on the task at hand: finish the thought, explore the feeling, reveal the turbulence. When the writing is done, the “now what” will lead me in other directions, and I will continue to ask it.
The one thing I do that helps me get my writing going is dictating while I'm walking. I use the built‐in Notes app on my iPhone, which has a dictation function. When I'm feeling stuck with a blank page, I head outside, sometimes with the dog on‐leash. I have a germ of an idea in my head. Sometimes this germ is for a novel scene, sometimes it is for an essay. Then I start talking through ideas while the phone transcribes them. I learned the voice commands for punctuation and new paragraphs, so by the time I'm done, what I've dictated resembles what I intended. There's something about dictating a scene or the opening of an essay that really helps get my ideas flowing. When I return home, the Notes app syncs with my laptop, and I can open up my work there. Inevitably, I've written far more than I expected—after all, we talk a lot faster than we write (usually).
Today, I am alive, present, in this moment, aware of weather, the lighting in this room, the color of the sky, the drama of trees outside my window. Every songbird, plant, friend or foe, loved one or stranger has a life cycle. Where am I, today, in mine? What I see, know, feel and dreamed last night or said to my son, or left unsaid, what I wonder is … what? My answers are in: my first diary, at 13; my current journal, at 59; my decades of diaries to each of my children. Because I write not knowing what I'll say, suddenly, words on a page = state of my soul. Spontaneity sparks enchantment—unplanned words change and enliven me. I cycle like the sycamore in every weather. Writing practice is listening to my silver lining voice. Writing practice is hope and truth, beauty and resilience. Today is yes, yes, yes.
There's no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting. I prefer to get something down on the screen and then revisit it many times, smoothing out the grammatical and spelling bumps, making sure it reads easily and fact checking my own content. It gives me something to work with and takes much of the pressure off of writing. I also can't stress enough how important it is to read widely and deeply. I have over 50 paper and electronic subscriptions on a wide range of topics. I read not only for content, but also for writing style.
Maybe it's the edging in of warmer weather or the end of the academic year, but around this time—when I see the purple mulberry stains on the sidewalk and baby birds stretching their wings— my writing practice usually needs a good recharge. For this, I grab my journal and head to the local community pool. Something about the tang of chlorine, the glittered spray of limbs churning water, the splash of aqua waves, children summoning the courage to jump, and then the spring‐slap of the diving board when they do—rendering these sounds, smells, and images into words catapults me right into the lyrical present. This is where poetry meets meditation. I keep the pen moving on the page and reach into my embodied experience of sitting on the cool concrete on a warm day. Inevitably, without trying, metaphors and emotion emerge. Sometimes, that's all it is—a poolside journal entry. But very frequently, after laps, after lunch, I find the words have gathered their own momentum, and the rest of the day lays itself at the foot of a new story, and I, obedient to the muse, acquiesce.
Happy writing, WIHE readers!