My Writing Rules

Sometimes we look silly doing what we love.

I'm deep in the thickets of drafting my first bookMinimalism for Grandparents: Decluttering for Health, Happiness, and Connection During the Golden Years, and some of you may be wondering just how I manage to write with such prolificacy while also traveling the world. At least my writer friend Jared was. So for Jared and anyone else who may be wondering, the answer (besides that I'm lucky enough to be able to design my life this way) is that I'm easily bored and possibly just a touch ADD. Therefore, having multiple projects going at once is a must for me. I don't seem to be capable of working on one project until it's done and then picking up another one. In the same vein, I'm currently reading (hang on, let me count them) seven books. Probably more, but I stopped counting at seven since I thought it was a suitably impressive number. That's useful for me since whatever I'm reading tends to come out in pure form when I converse. If I was just reading one book, it could get tiring to hear about revolutionary Iran in the 80's over and over. With my brain in seven books, however, I can talk about how Nabokov appears to have been read by students at Tehran university who were  not exactly fifty shades of Zionism which came during and after Audrey Hepburn's early film career.  I often internally  mourn that my brain is fond of boxes. However, I think this reading of unrelated subject matter fights my waffle-headed tendencies and helps me make creative new connections.


Back to my writing, which is as connected to my reading as Levi's are to blue thread.  I've learned through the years that I need some sort of schedule for myself. Writing is solitary and there's no boss looking over my shoulder, making sure I've done pages for the day. I've experimented with many different  tactics:

  • Writing in the morning
  • Writing at night
  • Writing in the afternoon
  • Writing every day
  • Wearing  a special hat to write
  • Writing only when inspired late at night on caffeine
  • Writing for eight hours a day on weekdays
  • Writing on my lunch break at an office job
  • Asking friends to ask me about my writing regularly
  • Promising  people completed scripts upon certain deadlines
  • Writing carefully
  • Writing heedlessly
  •  Setting yearly writing goals
  • Setting monthly writing goals
  • Scheduling out each day down to the minute
  • Setting a timer and writing until it goes off

Whew. I've learned a few things in general about how to make myself write. For me, the earlier in the day that I write, the more likely I am to a) write that day and b) write more that day. Writing at the beginning of the day seems to set a tone of creative production for the whole day and to keep my muse happy and coming back for more.

The muse shows up unannounced and usually at the most inconvenient times. The best writing comes from the muse: what you can also think of as the holy spirit, or the creative subconscious. The ability to write when the muse shows up takes the same kind of discipline that waking up early - the moment your alarm goes off-- takes. It's hard and I rarely do it. But I'm glad when I do. The best feeling when writing, and when the best writing comes, is when the creative subconscious gets though in kind of a sly way. I'm relaxed, well fed, and not worried about the well-being of any of my loved ones. There's quiet around me - no music or conversation or fear of interruption. I'm not trying too hard; it's flow. Time passes without my awareness of how much has gone by.

However, most times, I'm trying hard. Because in an almost cruel reality, the muse is somehow summoned and nourished by my trying hard -- by thinking a lot about the writing and the topics. I can relate it to something I heard in an interview with actor James Franco. He prepares and prepares very hard, then when the cameras roll, he just relaxes and lets whatever comes out come out.

What has worked for me to get my writing done every day while still leaving time to experience where I am, is daily goals. Also, I have more time to write now than I did in LA. I have fewer friends here to hang out with, and I don't have another job to take any of my creative energy (as much as I liked faerie princess-ing).

After trying to schedule my days, I found out that one of my big values is freedom. I won't stick to a schedule because it can feel like a tyrant boss.

So I have simple two rules for myself:

  1. Write every day.
  2. Write for at least an hour, five days a week. Usually I end up writing for more than one hour, but it's kind of like telling yourself before a morning jog that you are just going to run for five minutes. Once you get out there, feel the wind in your nose and see the birds fluttering by, you'll be enjoying it and you'll probably run for the whole thirty minutes.

On top of my writing rules, at the beginning of the year I had a couple of big writing goals. One was to write six first drafts (feature-length scripts) this year. Another was to write and publish my first book. I have other smaller projects too, but those are in addition to my major goals.

So that I keep my projects straight and work on each project enough to complete my goals on time, I created one goal for each remaining work day of 2012. I did this a couple months ago, and this system is working for me so far. It allows me to focus on one project a day, to trust that they will all get done because I can see it on the schedule, and to not get bored because I can see ahead that I will get to work on a different project soon.

For example, here is what my first ten days looked like:

Day 1 Blogsville -- book project ask for help and weekend trip

Day 2 Character work on script #3.

Day 3 Plot work on script #3.

Day 4 Character work on script #3

Day 5 Research details for the script.

Day 6 Blogsville

Day 7 Outline #3 in Final Draft

Day 8 New script idea generating

Day 9 Outline #3 in Final Draft

Day 10 Go to script: Write 10 pages today on script #3.

It goes on until the end of the year...

I don't add a date to when I should be doing each goal because sometimes I move them around or work on a weekend or maybe I took a mental health day or a sick day. (I have a great boss who lets me take off whenever I want.) Life is bigger than writing. And that's the way I like it.

If you are trying to write (or paint, or whatever) and you are also working a full-time job or have some other major drain on your time, my only advice is to write first thing in the morning. I didn't have the willpower to do it regularly when I had a full-time job, but if I had one now, I'd find a way to make it work. I'd reward myself with ice cream of something, anything, but I would make it work.

If you are trying to write while traveling, the advice is the same. Bring a small laptop computer or a notebook, and do it early. You never know what the day will bring, and you have most control over you time and willpower in the morning.

I think each writer (or any person who wants to create something without an office and a boss) must experiment and figure out what works for him or her. Let me know if this helped you.

If you have felt for a long time that you want to write, that you have something to say, you are weakening the tender fabric of your soul with each day that you do not write.

Please leave any helpful tips that have worked for you in the area of self-motivated creative work in the comments below. I trust you guys to give me some good tips that will help me write more and better, and that will help anyone who reads this post.