Before You Write

There are plenty of days where I can think of nothing else other than getting home so I can get back to writing. However, there are plenty of times that as the day goes on, my enthusiasm and creative charge fades by the time I can finally get to it. So I’ve developed a system to help me out, and I thought I’d share my ideas. You could think of it as a method for setting yourself up for a creative and productive writing session.

Before you write:

1.) Read

Read something, even if it’s just a paragraph. You should read something that inspires you to write. For me, I like to read a few paragraphs of TC Boyle before I begin. The danger of course is that you may imitate their style, so be careful that it’s just inspiration and imitation.

2.) Have an idea in mind

My best writing happens after I’ve thought and re-thought about a scene or idea over and over. Usually when I’m done writing for the day, I plan out what I’d like to see happen next and mull over it the next day; that way when I sit down to write, what I want to say comes pouring out of me.

3.) Take a minute to clear your mind

A few deep breaths or a quick meditation should work.

4.) Always have a plan

Otherwise you are just brainstorming in real time. This can be a problem. Some people feel that spontaneous writing is the only good writing, when in fact, it is quite the opposite. Spontaneous writing leads to unneeded repetition and meandering narratives that don’t have a point or take much too long to deliver the point.  It can lead to great stuff, but only after the spontaneous writing has been heavily revised and edited. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never read well written, well edited spontaneous writing.

5.) Make the first thing you write everyday sing

Put your most concise, well phrased, well nuanced sentence first. That way you are forced to keep up with that high level of writing for the duration of your writing session.  Be careful not to become to flowery, wordy, or pretentious.

6.) If you have time, go back and read it

Chances are you’ve left out words and have plenty to revise. Don’t do too much revising yet; just do the stuff that jumps out at you and mark things that you know sound funny but you can’t figure out how to fix just yet. Usually a day or so away will help you see your problems. This also helps me figure out what I need to do next.

This is far from definitive, but it works for me.

What do you do? Feel free to leave comments.

CN James’ short story The Dark Room won honorable mention in the 78th Annual writer’s Digest Writing Competition for genre short story. He teaches college writing as well as guitar, and enjoys jazz, alternative rock, watching 80′s cartoons, and experiencing stories with monsters in them.He holds a Master’s Degree in English Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Music (Jazz Guitar), and has enjoyed success with his first novel, Bone Machine, a second round finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Learn more at his networked blog and his website:

Categories: Fiction Tips, Nonfiction Tips, and The Writing Life.

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