by Lisa Hartsgrove
Students in my Just Write class tend to arrive like a blank page. Most are eager to start, but at the same time have not written in years or do not keep a consistent routine. That means I have the privilege of inspiring them to create a writing practice, helping them fill that blank page (after page after page).
By the end of each session, I am constantly awed by their transformations. One student in particular is jumping to my mind now. She was a student who left writing for much of her adult life, and then returned to it in Just Write. After a few classes, she discovered the voice of a character that she wanted to stick with. Now, she is coming into her fourth session with our class, and sharing a new chapter each week of the novel she’s begun, starring that same character!
Whether you feel like “a blank page” or not, here are some tips I share with my students to launch them into a creative mindset so the words can begin flowing:
- Read – So many of us say we’re not writing because we “have nothing to write about,” but inspiration is always lurking if you know where to look for it! The best way I’ve found to get myself writing is to get myself reading. Whether you prefer poetry or the news, novels or memoirs, all it takes is ONE sentence that moves you in some way to inspire a story. (Writing tip: Lift the sentence, drop it onto a blank page, and go). The more you read, the more you want to write, and the more you learn about how you want to write it.
- Tap Into Your Creativity – Sometimes the story you want to tell needs to come out in a different medium before it can come out in words. When I have an idea I haven’t quite pinned down yet, I often spend time drawing or painting before trying to write. The outcome of my art isn’t really the point—it’s the process. As I’m moving the pen or paintbrush across the canvas, my creative mind begins to soar. So when I get back to writing, all of my engines are firing again. (Your creativity might emerge in the form of a nature walk, or playing the guitar—not everyone paints, but everyone connects with art in one way or another!)
- Stay Seated – Sometimes the story flows right out of you, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as “writer’s block.” If the story isn’t coming right away, you have to give it more time to emerge. Don’t leave the page! Stay seated. Wait for the story to show itself. Write about what’s on your mind. Journal. It doesn’t matter what it is; what matters is that you are doing it. Set a timer (10-15 min.) and commit to the seat for that amount of time. Then continue to set the timer for a reasonable amount each day to establish the routine. Because once you have the flow, the quality will follow.
- Draft Like No One Is Reading – If you’re always writing with your audience in mind, you are always censoring yourself. I’ve found that my most authentic writing comes when I write like no one is going to read it. This allows me to open up to the heart of my truth. It isn’t until I feel I have a completed draft that I go back and read with the eye of my audience. There’s a quote about this by Anne Lamott that I live by so much that I have written it on my wall: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Bottom line: Write for you.
- Hold Yourself Accountable – Maintaining a writing routine is hard work, especially when you don’t have someone there telling you to do it. So, find ways to hold yourself accountable! Put writing as a high priority in your calendar. Get a writing buddy. Make yourself deadlines and hold to them. Or, join a writing group or class. Treat your writing practice with the same importance that you treat your eating, exercise, or sleeping practice. Act like it is essential to your wellbeing. Because you might just find that it is.
Our next six-week session of Just Write begins Tuesday, September 22 (7 to 9 p.m.).
Art by Lisa Hartsgrove