Ch. 3: Your Book Starts Here (Developing a Writing Practice)

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. --T.S. Elliot

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. –T.S. Elliot

To continue reading this post on my new site, click here.

I’ve been traveling a lot and starting a new side business and, well, basically I’ve watched the good writing practice that I did have plummet to the depths of nowhere. Am I still a writer? In my world, stress is a creativity killer and I’ve had way to much of it so I haven’t even had time to stop and think about how I feel these days, much less write!

I don’t just need a new writing practice, I need one. Period.  (Trumpets start, and entering from the wings: Chapter 3 of Your Book Starts Here, Developing a Writing Practice.) Hello, good timing. Welcome. You can have center stage. (In case you missed it, here’s where you can find my posts about chapter 1 and chapter 2.)

So let’s jump in.

Wise Words from Author Mary Carroll Moore

“Few books arrive fully formed,” writes Mary Carroll Moore, and it “takes the same everyday hard work that tennis players put in practicing their volleys, violinists their scale.”

Ah yes. Discipline. Repetition. Those same small steps day in and day out are the ones that lead to huge changes. After all, take your teeth for instance. You spend those 2+ minutes in the morning, and again at night, and 30 or 40 years down the road you’re not paying for fillings and root canals and gum disease treatments. Same with writing. Even 15 minutes a day could produce a book within a year.

The Professional Writer’s Schedule

Professional Writer's Schedule

Professional Writer’s Schedule

One of my absolute favorite books on writing (and a most enjoyable read!) is Stephen King’s On WritingMoore also recommends it and writes that to find the professional writer’s schedule, we need to:

  1. let go of expectations
  2. find the joy
  3. find the practice (the key!)

Experiment

One exercise she gives is to EXPERIMENT with writing times and locations over the course of 1 week and while I think this is a great idea, I’m traveling so much over the next few months and won’t be in one space long enough to figure out if it’s the best writing space for me. I will, however, take note of places I write and the time of day when I catch that creative wave. 🙂 Today, I downloaded the app Jiffy for this very reason. It’s AWESOME and you can read more about it below.

Finding Ritual, Routine, Rhythm, Realism and Record

Side Note from Your Book Starts Here: Some of my favorite articles about productivity for writers are by author Susan Dennard (who wrote the lovely Something Strange and Deadly series). It’s really worth spending some time with these articles if you are 1) looking to be more productive with your writing, and 2) want to develop the habits that will set you up for success. You can find her introduction to the Productivity Pyramid here. From there you can find links to further breakdowns of her pyramid: Ritual, Routine, Rhythm, Realism and Record.

I discovered this pyramid back in January and found Ritual and Routine to be particularly helpful with setting up new habits and perimeters in my writing schedule. I had just moved halfway around the world and finding routines and rituals anchored me in my new home! I went from not being focused at all, to having a daily routine which included: morning contemplation, making coffee and opening the laptop by 7 AM, and excluding ALL connection with the outside world during my two morning writing stints. No emailing, social media or checking-of-thy-computer until lunch time every day. It was weird at first. I didn’t realize that for the last bazillion years I was in the ritual of checking messages on my phone before my second eye opened. But, I started leaving my phone charging downstairs and that helped me break the habit. And I have to tell ya, waiting until lunchtime to check messages is fun! Remember when getting emails was fun? Well, when you don’t check them every minute or two, it is really fun. Anywho, my morning routine became 2 writing sessions of 90 minutes each, with a 30 minute break in between them. I can’t recommend the system enough. It was a life changer! And since I’m traveling so much over the next few months and back to having no ritual and routine these days, I’m going to refresh them myself and see if I can find some good practices in the midst of the chaos!

And if you do find that you want to explore the Productivity Pyramid a little more and learn
about when you’re most creative, check out this amazing app called Jiffy. I just started tracking my productivity today with it. Basically, you can put all of your projects (or anything you spend time on) in the app and each has their own timer. So at the end of the day (or week, month, year, etc.), you can see where your time went. I’m curious to see if I’m meeting my goals on some projects that I’m involved in and learn what times of the day I work on different things.

Finding a Rhythm with 10 Minutes a Day

As Moore says, there are different ways to gauge our practice. Time of day or meeting a certain word count, as Ernest Hemingway did, are a couple of ways. It’s all about finding your own rhythm and we all have different ways of finding it.

As Moore says, “Finding your rhythm and honoring your practice will slowly grow your confidence in your commitment to your craft.”

So, trusting ourselves and the writing practice we’ve committed to = delivering successful results = gaining stamina = momentum. And once the momentum happens, a finished product is within sight!

Moore says to start small. Even 10 minutes a day for the first couple of weeks can build the trust we need in ourselves to establish a good practice.

10 minutes.

Many years ago I heard a nutrition expert speak about the importance of exercising daily, to which I thought, realllllllyyy… everyday??? To which he said oh yes, everyday. BUT the clincher was that you didn’t have to kill yourself everyday with hours of exercise. It’s about developing the habit. He said that even walking a half hour every morning would be nearly 4 hours at the end of the week, which adds up to more than 200 hours of exercise at the end of the year. That is guarenteed to change your life! Much like starting with that 10 minutes of writing a day.

Moore goes on to discuss the common sabotages of a good writing practice and even exercises for discovering them and fixing it. She also gets into the healthy aspect of writing and how we can recognize this transformation in our own characters. Good stuff!

Starting a Writing Practice

My favorite exercise from the book is this: Start a Writing Practice by writing for 10 minutes everyday for the next three weeks. Pick a time and commit to writing for 10 minutes during that time every day. 10 minutes x 3 weeks = 3.5 hours! Yes, I can do this. Here’s the breakdown:

Week 1: freewrites

Week 2: (Day 1: free-write list of possible topics for book) (Day 2-7: pick 1 off the list each day and do a free-write about it)

Week 3: blend weeks 1 and 2 by taking a topic and adding observations on things you felt, saw, experienced over the week

That’s all for now. I’ll be pausing here for the next three weeks (but still posting about other things) as I delve into this new writing practice and I’ll share my thoughts along the way. After, I’ll crack open the book and move on to chapter 4: Listening to the Inner Critic.

Do you have thoughts to share about your writing practice? What sets you up for success? Please share in the comments below! 🙂

In case you missed it, I started a Literary Map of New Orleans that marks key spots when the likes of Hemingway, Faulkner and Tennessee Williams wrote, slept and knocked back a few. Check it out here! And drop me a line if you have something to add to it!

Until next time,

Ellie

Articles, Links, Books and Music for Inspiration:

Kissing in the Rain by Patrick Doyle

Love, love love this one! Two Minutes to Four and Reunited (featuring Lana Del Ray)

Death Bed from Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack

Pienso en Ti by Shakira (probably my favorite song ever by Shakira, from the Soundtrack to                Love in the Time of Cholera

Another fav: Jake’s First Flight from Avatar

An old favorite: Goa from the Bourne Supremacy movie

The book I’m following through these posts is Your Book Starts Here.

Book I (still) reading and loving: The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

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LISTerati: 10 Quotes about Showing vs. Telling

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov

“Show, don’t tell!” I can hear my first writing teacher belt out before our in-class writing assignments. And if you’ve ever read the old letter that David Mamet wrote to the writers of the Unit, you’re probably certain that telling must be illegal. But, everything has it’s place and this is no different.

Telling actually tells us what’s going on, where we are, and can move the story along. Showing gives us the viceral, emotional response to what’s going on. It’s where the five senses are drawn upon, where we sink into a scene and lose ourselves. It’s all about striking the right balance between the two.

What I’m learning from chapter 2 of Mary Carroll Moore’s book, Your Book Starts Here, is that Outer Story is about telling and Inner Story is about showing. However, if you find yourself in the doomed Land of Exposition, “telling” too much, or need some inspiration or a reminder about “showing,” you’ll enjoy this list of quotes from famous authors who believe that the ability to “show” should be in every writers’ toolbox.

1. “An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” -Stephen King

2. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please, will you do my job for me?” -C. S. Lewis

3. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov
Yes, yes, yes, we hear you Chekhov! I love this example; it’s clear and to the point. You can find a wonderful breakdown of this quote here.

4. “Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won’t, and your readers will get exhausted.” – James Scott Bell

5. Notes: This scene was clipped from Chapter 11 “Complications.” It bugged me to remove it, but I couldn’t put my finger on why that was, so I let it go. When it was too late to put it back, I finally realized what was bothering me. Though I refer to Bella’s clumsiness in gym several times, I never really show it in action. This was the one time that Edward was “watching,” and thus the natural place to showcase that clumsiness. Ha ha.” -Stephanie Meyer

6. “Show the readers everything, tell them nothing.”  -Ernest Hemingway

7. If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. -Ernest Hemingway

This one’s probably my favorite Hemingway quote. I’ve found it to be true many times over when standing back for a closer look at my own work. If you want more of Hemingway’s tips for writers and an elegant, detailed description of his writing space in Cuba, check out  my favorite clips in this post. (And there are links to the full interview, too.)

8. Any dickhead with a bluesuit can be (and is) taught to say “make it clearer”, and “I want to know more about him”. When you’ve made it so clear that even this bluesuited penguin is happy, both you and he or she will be out of a job. [..] any dickhead, as above, can write, “but, Jim, if we don’t assassinate the prime minister in the next scene, all Europe will be engulfed in flame”.  –David Mamet’s master class memo to the writers of The Unit

 Yes, it’s crude, blunt, even offensive to some. But it’s also brilliant.

9. “When describing nature, a writer should seize upon small details, arranging them so that the reader will see an image in his mind after he closes his eyes. For instance: you will capture the truth of a moonlit night if you’ll write that a gleam like starlight shone from the pieces of a broken bottle, and then the dark, plump shadow of a dog or wolf appeared. You will bring life to nature only if you don’t shrink from similes that liken its activities to those of humankind.” (Letter to Alexander Chekhov, May 10, 1886) -Anton Chekhov

Yes! We can see the ‘dark, plump shadow of a dog or wolf.’

10. “Don’t lecture your reader; she won’t believe you. Give her the story action, character thoughts, feelings, and sense impressions as the character would experience them in real life. Let her live the story for herself as she lives real life, by experience.” -Jack M. Bickham

A few links to wrap it up:

  • If you’re looking for a more detailed explanation of Showing vs. Telling, check out this post. The writer does a brilliant job of explaining it.
  • Another really good one from The Beginning Writer blog.
  • My post with my Hemingway quotes can be found here.
  • You can follow my journey through Mary Carroll Moore’s book, Your Book Starts Here, here.
  • You can purchase Your Book Starts Here at Amazon.
  • If you want more wisdom from Stephen King, his book, On Writing, is one of my favorites ever. Some of the best advice on the craft of writing and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

What are your thoughts about Showing vs. Telling? Do you have a favorite example to share? You can leave in the comments section below!

Happy Writing,

Ellie

To see this article (and many more) on my new site, head here!

Author’s Writing Spaces: Ernest Hemingway (Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 21)

Ernest Hemingway

If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show. If a writer omits something because he does not know it then there is a hole in the story. -Ernest Hemingway

One of my favorite interviews ever was the one between George Plimpton and Ernest Hemingway, which originally ran in the Paris Review in 1958. Besides Plimpton’s ability to paint a picture of Hemingway’s writing space that literally transports the reader to the author’s desk, it’s full of insightful tips for writers, and Hemingway’s frank and humorous personality. I’m sharing some of my favorite bits here and you can find the link to the full interview below.

On Hemingway’s Writing Space in Cuba, from his interview with George Plimpton:

Ernest Hemingway writes in the bedroom of his house in the Havana suburb of San Francisco de Paula. He has a special workroom prepared for him in a square tower at the southwest corner of the house, but prefers to work in his bedroom, climbing to the tower room only when “characters” drive him up there.

The bedroom is on the ground floor and connects with the main room of the house. The door between the two is kept ajar by a heavy volume listing and describing The World’s Aircraft Engines. The bedroom is large, sunny, the windows facing east and south letting in the day’s light on white walls and a yellow-tinged tile floor.

The room is divided into two alcoves by a pair of chest-high bookcases that stand out into the room at right angles from opposite walls. A large and low double bed dominates one section, oversized slippers and loafers neatly arranged at the foot, the two bedside tables at the head piled seven-high with books. In the other alcove stands a massive flat-top desk with a chair at either side, its surface an ordered clutter of papers and mementos. Beyond it, at the far end of the room, is an armoire with a leopard skin draped across the top. The other walls are lined with white-painted bookcases from which books overflow to the floor, and are piled on top among old newspapers, bullfight journals, and stacks of letters bound together by rubber bands.

It is on the top of one of these cluttered bookcases—the one against the wall by the east window and three feet or so from his bed—that Hemingway has his “work desk”—a square foot of cramped area hemmed in by books on one side and on the other by a newspaper-covered heap of papers, manuscripts, and pamphlets. There is just enough space left on top of the bookcase for a typewriter, surmounted by a wooden reading board, five or six pencils, and a chunk of copper ore to weight down papers when the wind blows in from the east window.

A working habit he has had from the beginning, Hemingway stands when he writes. He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.

When Hemingway starts on a project he always begins with a pencil, using the reading board to write on onionskin typewriter paper. He keeps a sheaf of the blank paper on a clipboard to the left of the typewriter, extracting the paper a sheet at a time from under a metal clip that reads “These Must Be Paid.” He places the paper slantwise on the reading board, leans against the board with his left arm, steadying the paper with his hand, and fills the paper with handwriting which through the years has become larger, more boyish, with a paucity of punctuation, very few capitals, and often the period marked with an X. The page completed, he clips it facedown on another clipboard that he places off to the right of the typewriter.

Hemingway shifts to the typewriter, lifting off the reading board, only when the writing is going fast and well, or when the writing is, for him at least, simple: dialogue, for instance.

He keeps track of his daily progress—“so as not to kid myself”—on a large chart made out of the side of a cardboard packing case and set up against the wall under the nose of a mounted gazelle head. The numbers on the chart showing the daily output of words differ from 450, 575, 462, 1250, back to 512, the higher figures on days Hemingway puts in extra work so he won’t feel guilty spending the following day fishing on the Gulf Stream.

A man of habit, Hemingway does not use the perfectly suitable desk in the other alcove. Though it allows more space for writing, it too has its miscellany: stacks of letters; a stuffed toy lion of the type sold in Broadway nighteries; a small burlap bag full of carnivore teeth; shotgun shells; a shoehorn; wood carvings of lion, rhino, two zebras, and a wart-hog—these last set in a neat row across the surface of the desk—and, of course, books: piled on the desk, beside tables, jamming the shelves in indiscriminate order—novels, histories, collections of poetry, drama, essays. A look at their titles shows their variety. On the shelf opposite Hemingway’s knee as he stands up to his “work desk” are Virginia Woolf’s The Common Reader, Ben Ames Williams’s House Divided, The Partisan Reader, Charles A. Beard’s The Republic, Tarle’s Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia, How Young You Look by Peggy Wood, Alden Brooks’s Shakespeare and the Dyer’s Hand, Baldwin’s African Hunting, T. S. Eliot’s Collected Poems, and two books on General Custer’s fall at the battle of the Little Big Horn.

The room, however, for all the disorder sensed at first sight, indicates on inspection an owner who is basically neat but cannot bear to throw anything away—especially if sentimental value is attached. One bookcase top has an odd assortment of mementos: a giraffe made of wood beads; a little cast-iron turtle; tiny models of a locomotive; two jeeps and a Venetian gondola; a toy bear with a key in its back; a monkey carrying a pair of cymbals; a miniature guitar; and a little tin model of a U.S. Navy biplane (one wheel missing) resting awry on a circular straw place mat—the quality of the collection that of the odds-and-ends which turn up in a shoebox at the back of a small boy’s closet. It is evident, though, that these tokens have their value, just as three buffalo horns Hemingway keeps in his bedroom have a value dependent not on size but because during the acquiring of them things went badly in the bush, yet ultimately turned out well. “It cheers me up to look at them,” he says.

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