Writer's Boot Camp: 4 Secrets

Welcome to Writer’s Boot Camp—a place where I’m not here to inspire or encourage you, but to get you writing your best. To understand the rules of the Boot Camp, you need to read “Writer’s Boot Camp Week: Why I Hate Talking About Writing” so you don’t get kicked out.

You may also want to read yesterday’s post: “21 Things No One Will Tell You As a Writer (But Someone Probably Should).”

Writing demands that you come to terms with the creative life—a rush of emotions, observations, adoration, ironies, coupled with the every day demands of paying a mortgage, caring for a family, and oh, yeah, dirty laundry. [Tweet this]

I’ve been writing for more than 15 years. I’m hopeful that in another 50 I might become good.

For those who want to write or unleash their creativity, enough hours never exist in any day. Never.

You must make time where time does not exist. [Tweet this]

You must find energy where energy does not exist. [Tweet this]

You must master the art of making something out of nothing. [Tweet this]

That requires prayer and intentional living. Here are 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer: [Tweet this]

1. Your Place Matters. The location you write matters. Great writing isn’t dependent on the perfect nook, the softest chair, the smoothest roller ball pen (no matter what you tell yourself), but your surroundings will impact your ability to write.

The place you create and the place you deconstruct your writing must be different. [Tweet this] I never write and edit in the same place. I will move from one side of the room to another. Change chairs. Sit on the other side of a table. The part of the brain that creates is different then that which plays critic, and I want different physical places to represent the reality of what I’m doing.

When you create, you need to be free to create without the slightest hindrance—no self- slowing you down. That’s reserved for 10,000 rewrites.

Objective: Reflect on the place where you create and the place where you deconstruct. How can you make your creative space more life-giving? [Tweet this] Remove clutter? Add a splash of fresh paint? Hang a framed photo? What physical shift do you need to make for the editing process?

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

2. Discover Your Creative Sweet Spot. Did you know there are particular hours in your day that you write better than others? [Tweet this] If you look at a calendar, you’ll discover specific days of the week that are your prime writing times.

During a week when I’m at home, my best writing is Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. After a weekend of playing with friends and adventuring outdoors, my creative tank is full. The most colorful expressions and sharpest turns of phrase will emerge during those three days. That’s why I’ll push aside everything—radio interviews, blog posts, conference calls until Thursday and Friday. I don’t want to sacrifice a moment of juicy creativity answering ho-hum emails or getting caught up in busy work.

Objective: Over the next 21 days, pay attention to what you’re writing when. Which days of the week are your strongest pieces emerging? [Tweet this] Which hours of the day are you wide-awake and alert to creativity?

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

3. Unplug From Distraction. Now that you’ve discovered your creative sweet spot, everything is going to try to tear you away from it. It won’t just be professional pressures, but familial demands. The lawn must be mowed. The dishwasher emptied. The laundry folded.

You may be able to run away to the library or coffee shop and escape such nuisances, but the most dangerous is lurking right in front of you: The Internet.

I confess that I can’t write unplugged. I’m co-dependent. Sites like Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com are heaven-sent gifts. Sometimes I just need to know how many toes a salamander has before I can write another sentence. (Never more than four toes on their front feet, in case you were wondering).

But much more dangerous sites are only a click away. Facebook. Twitter. Skyauction. Craigslist. Weather.com. Ebay. Hours of distraction beckon me. Sometimes I’ll give in—telling myself it will just be a minute. It’s always at least two. But the real cost is the start and stop of creative energy. In turning to such sites, I lose inertia. The creative flow wanes and must be drummed up again.

Objective: Make a list of what will most likely distract or pull you away from your most creative moments. Ruthlessly eliminate each one. [Tweet this] If you must stay plugged in to write, limit the sites you visit to those that feed your creative energy. Stay away from the drain holes.

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

4. Develop a Sustainable System. What system do you have in place to support the way you write? Most projects require research, notes, interviews, and more. How do you stay organized as more information, details, and potential rabbit trails infiltrate your project?

Here’s my top secret system. I write with four Word files open. The first file is a detailed outline of the project. This is my roadmap. I’ll return to this file at least 300 times during a project to see if I’m staying on track or wandering away from the main idea.

The second file is the actual document. This is the manuscript. This is where the creativity happens. But along the way I’ll write a paragraph that, while insightful, doesn’t fit. I’ll tell a story that, while intriguing, isn’t necessary. These need to be cut. That’s why another file is needed.

The third file is called scrap. This is the place I put everything I wrote in the actual document that doesn’t have a place. That funny-one liner. That stellar quote. That ironic detail that just doesn’t fit. I’ll cut and paste all those left overs into this one file. Then when I become stuck writing, I’ll turn to my scrap file and look for treasures. Sometimes I’ll find that one sentence or idea that gets me unstuck and fits perfectly.

The fourth file is called research. The web is a living entity. Articles appear, disappear, and become modified overnight. If any of your research is done online, always take a screen shot. Then save that image in research. You’ll probably also need an old fashioned manila folder for scrap articles that are from print sources (or scan them in). But you need a place to collect your research.

Objective: Reflect on the sustainability of your system for researching, writing, and creating. What’s working? [Tweet this] What needs to be readjusted? How would a better organizational plan help you become a faster, better writer?

Writer’s Boot Camp Week: 4 Secrets To Becoming a Better Writer

Stop. Drop. And give me 1. In the space below.

Give me the ONE thing from this list you struggle with the most as a comment on this blog post. [Tweet this] Then explain how you are going to overcome it. 

If you have a follow up question to this post, ask it. If I like you, I’ll consider answering it. But only if you did your homework from the two previous posts: Why I Hate Talking About Writing and 21 Things No One Will Tell You As a Writer (But Someone Probably Should).

Remember. This is Boot Camp.

If you’re brave enough, jump back on tomorrow as we discuss The Secret to Getting Published in 2013.