The Writer's 10: Useful Habit #3: Read like a writer, or quit reading altogether

The Writer's 10: Useful Habit #3: Read like a writer, or quit reading altogether

Ever been to the Louvre in Paris? One of the most ubiquitous sights you’ll encounter in that rambling mausoleum of artistic endeavor is small packs of art students seated on benches and against walls, notepads open, sketching furiously away.

Studying and imitating the masters is a time-honored means of gaining insight into all kinds of visual art forms. Likewise, when you read, you should have your mental sketchpad at the ready. This means reading not only as a reader; but also as a writer. And taking lots and lots of notes.

I never read anything (not even a magazine) without a pen in my hand (you say, “obsessive”; I say, “committed to expanding my vocabulary.”). Some see the habit of scribbling all over the margins of books and magazines as practically sacrilegious, but think of it this way: as a writer, you are sitting down to study every single time you read something. And any student worth her salt had better be taking great notes.

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The Writer's 10: Useful Habit #2 - Track the Habits You've Already Developed

The Writer's 10: Useful Habit #2 - Track the Habits You've Already Developed

When you find yourself stuck in a rut, even before you attempt to free yourself, your first course of action should be to check the soundness of your wheels.

Four key cylinders keep the writing machine turning: depth of focus, depth of determination, available time, and soundness of habits.

It’s important to spend some time identifying your own habits. We all have at least a few good ones. We’ve all got at least a few bad ones, too. They are our default starting points. Some people thrive on deadlines. Others (like me) turn into catatonic, rocking messes at the thought of pulling even a single all-nighter and instead insist on dragging projects out into blind infinity.

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The Writer's 10: Useful Habit #1 - Stop Blaming Your Tools

The Writer's 10: Useful Habit #1 - Stop Blaming Your Tools

Well, hello, there, gorgeous writer!

I’m kicking off the official unofficial launch of The Writer in Full with a quick-and-dirty blog series I’ll call “The Writer’s 10.”

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share, in brief and casual format, a series of 10 writing habits that have proven particularly durable and useful for me during my decade-plus as a professional writer. And I’ll offer up easy suggestions for how you might put the habit into practice in your daily writing life.

Why? Because earlier this year, I finished another yearlong creative blogging challenge (check it out here) and learned some surprising things about myself in the process

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It Writes You: When Creativity Takes Hold

It Writes You: When Creativity Takes Hold

Write long and hard enough, and at some certain distant point, your writing will take hold of you, almost as if by force.

It's as if all the years and days and hours of hard work sum up to the recitation of an incantation of sorts, which if you are lucky will one day float up off the pages and possess you, come over you, take ownership of you, dragging you miraculously along.

But it takes ages, and most folks give up long before the transformation can find root. For the first 10 years or so, you write your work. For the next 50, your work writes you. Take ownership of your writing long enough and it will happen, eventually. And when it does, it’ll be exciting and mystical and somehow even liberating.

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Pas Mal: The Tricky Task of Measuring Your Own Talent

Pas Mal: The Tricky Task of Measuring Your Own Talent

Once, when I was a self-absorbed international student in Paris and prone to fits of existential scribbling and diary-keeping, I made a line drawing of Che Guevara in my little black journal.

I copied it from an image of Che emblazoned on to the base of an ashtray I’d picked up in Amsterdam in a few quick Sharpie strokes.

I was quite pleased with the results.

Then I showed it proudly to my French host brother, who so happened to be an art student.

He gave my creation an appraising look, pursed his lips, and announced: “Pas mal.” Not bad.

Oh, I was insulted! And I let him know.

Then, for good measure, I showed the line drawing around to several other friends, regaling them with the story of his unduly scathing review and soliciting from them assurance of my goodness, my talent.

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"How come I'm not famous yet?"

"How come I'm not famous yet?"

 

There’s this thing that gets said about unrealized dreams and desires, and it’s this:

if you really wanted it badly enough, wouldn’t you have already made it happen?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

We fail to make headway on our goals for a multitude of reasons having nothing to do with how much you want it: lack of clarity or time, fear, distraction, laziness, neurosis, self-loathing, and unsupportive friends and partners, to name a select few. Failure to progress doesn’t always indicate that a goal is unworthy or untenable.

Sometimes you just haven’t found the time or the means or the place or the simple gumption. That doesn’t mean you can’t.

It doesn’t mean you never, ever will. You just. Haven’t. Yet.

Relax. There’s still yet time, and plenty of it.

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