Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Importance of Preparing to Write

Over the years, I’ve had a few discussions with writers about the habits they’ve developed when preparing to write. One day, a workshop facilitator asked how many of us make a cup of tea before sitting down to write. Over half the hands in the room, including mine, shot up. The next largest group was the coffee drinkers. There were also a number of writers who munched on biscuits, peanuts, or M&Ms while writing.

I have colleagues who prepare to write by going to the same place in their home everyday. Some writers prepare by composing a paragraph or two of whatever comes to mind. Others might do a little physical exercise while many writers choose to edit a page of the previous day’s work to put them back in the zone.

It seems that nearly every writer performs some sort of ritual to put them in a creative mindset. This isn’t so much a quirky habit but, as Betsy Warland writes in her book, Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing, a necessary part of writing. Warland views preparation as a three part process.

The first step she calls circling, which is where the writer gathers thoughts, images, research, and notes. This process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few years.

Warland calls the second step the approach, or “crossing the threshold”. This is where the writer does something that takes him (or her) away from the daily obstacles and activities of life. For many, this means going for a walk, or perhaps a bike ride. During this process, the writer's thoughts are shifting into a state of consciousness that allows him to focus on writing.

The third stage is the active waiting stage, which is when the writer sit at his writing place and lets the thoughts come. Warland compares this part of the process to a basketball player gathering his focus at the free throw line, however she cautions us not to rush this final stage. The urgency to put something down on paper because we only have an hour, is a common problem that often sends the writers’ work off track.

Over the years, my writing habits have changed. These days, I prefer a morning coffee to tea, and I’ve discovered the joy of writing a first draft on a laptop from anywhere in my home rather than using the PC in my basement office. I also prefer to download emails and visit twitter as part of my warm-up exercise, but I guess changing with the times is also part of the writing process.

Coming in March 2011, THE OPPOSITE OF DARK,

My Alex Bellamy mysteries can be purchased at

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