How to Keep on Writing that Freaking Book!

Question: When is 9 months “a year”?

Answer: When the 9 months is spent in a manuscript class.

I teach a memoir manuscript class here in Seattle at Hugo House. The class runs 9 months from September to June, and yet the class is called the Yearlong Memoir Manuscript Class. And right about now, these writers are feeling the yearlong slog of it all. They have two more months to go and an hugo_house_picture_2anticipated 25,000 more words to write. How will they keep on keeping on?

Last class meeting the group members shared with each other the strategies that are keeping them motivated and writing. I’m sharing the list they generated here as I think there are a ton of great ideas here and probably at least one or two you can use. The key is, of course, using strategies. I myself like to read about helpful strategies and can be a wee bit lethargic about the actual implementation, but maybe you’re not like that. Maybe you’re an implementer.

The Hugo House Yearlong Memoir Manuscript Class’ Best Tips:

  1. Separating generative writing time from editing time (To guard against endless editing).
  2. Working with a small writing group that meets monthly in which members take turns sharing pages.
  3. Sending work to willing and supportive readers.
  4. Writing what captivates me.
  5. Keeping an “idea book” and jotting ideas in it when they arise.
  6. Setting backup production goals (word count/quarter) as well as aspirational ones.
  7. Printing out my work (some place new pages in a binder as they’re produced).
  8. Reading work I love (sometimes over and over again). Recognizing that some writers are truly your teachers (even if you’ve never met them). These particular writers have something to teach you as a writer so rereading their work is great use of your time.
  9. Creating regular times to talk with others about writing.
  10. Resisting the urge to focus on structure (instead of generating new pages).
  11. Writing without fear of reproach. Telling myself, “This is my story to tell.”
  12. Reading the The Autobiographer’s Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir.
  13. Writing in the morning or late at night when household is quiet.
  14.  Not looking for the perfect thing to write next. Just jumping in anywhere.
  15. Using the Priscilla Long prompt that begins with listing five things you’re interested in writing about right now. Prompt can be found on  page 19 of Long’s book The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life.
  16. Doing planning activities (but not letting them replace generative writing time).
  17. Book proposal writing.
  18. Using Brooke Warner’s ebook How to Sell Your Memoir Proposal.
  19. Progoff journaling: Writing your book’s history as if it already exists in the world
  20. Getting out of the house and writing in a cafe or bookstore.
  21. Scheduling writing into your week.
  22. Doing Lynda Barry’s 4-Minute Diary.
  23. Listening to the voice that says, “This is what I need to write right now.” (even if the topic choice seems illogical).
  24. Capitalize on times I feel inspired and use those times to write.
  25. Telling myself “just get the stories down.” Don’t worry how they’ll form a whole during the generative period.
  26. Listening to podcasts that model good storytelling, especially during commutes.
  27. Not being stopped by the fear of self-reproach. Using the Cheryl Strayed “Fear is not an option” strategy.
  28. Reminding myself, “It seems to me if you lived through this, you have the right to write about it.”
  29. Letting go of worries about structure and generating more.
  30. Getting away from the computer when stuck and writing by hand.
  31. Taking breaks.
  32. Looking at what I wrote at the end of every day so I remember it the next day and don’t have to use my writing time rereading.
  33. Moving on to a new topic in the book when bored.
  34. Go straight to the writing each morning (after walking the dog).
  35. Delaying fact checking until generative work is done.
  36. Asking myself, “If I don’t write this, who will?”
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