Saturday, February 28, 2009

Four tips for getting back into writing

When I was an editor for a weekly newspaper in North Carolina, I worked 40-50 hours a week writing, editing, taking photographs and graphic designing my own features and community news section. I’d start with 8-10 pages of white space, put in the obligatory ad boxes and the rest of the space was all mine. Every week, it was my blank canvas, my work in progress, my masterpiece.

And somehow – and this is still a mystery to me – I also found the time to freelance on the side. I managed to write for four additional newspapers and magazines, one of which was in Washington D.C., where I used to live, and paid me $1 / word to write about a bathroom poet – a disarming and intriguing woman who posted poetry on bathroom walls of cafes and restaurants, poems short enough to be enjoyed in a single, ahem, sitting. (Yes I used the “ahem” in my article for effect).

Now, I live in Boulder, Colorado – and wouldn’t have it any other way – but I don’t work in the print journalism industry. I don’t work in editing, writing, publishing, design, or photography. I work in the fitness industry. I only work 35 hours a week. I have great co-workers. I work downtown (i.e., I can eat lunch at dozens of wonderful local places). But writing has not been a part of my life for almost a year, save for a dozen or so emotionally-charged blog entries and passionate declarations for the city I live in.

And now, with this blog post, I re-enter the world of writing. I’ve been away for almost a year, and, my sweet love, it’s been too long. There have been various reasons for my departure – one involving a 90-mph car accident that I will get to in another entry – but I’m back, and I’ve got some tips. Now all I have to do is take my own advice.

Frame your pre-existing passions

Lately, I’ve been into raw food. I know better than to advocate a completely, 100% raw vegan diet – I wouldn’t even do that in Boulder, and I’ve realized through various responses to my Facebook status updates that most people are instantly turned off by this “new age-y” concept. But I’ve met local raw chefs, read raw vegan books, and experimented with adding more raw food to my diet – and I feel phenomenal when I do so. I could make a sweet, creamy raw pecan nut milk that would blow your mind. I can "cook" a zucchini and carrot pasta with an avocado "cream" sauce that would make you want to marry me. It took me about a month of researching and being really into this topic to realize that I could take this and turn it into a magazine query.

Nothing I eat right now has any ingredient I don’t understand. Everything I eat is an ingredient – it’s a vegetable, a fruit, a nut. Of course, sometimes the ingredients are grapes and sulfites but… I don’t claim to be perfect.

What are you into right now? It can be anything. Are you training for a half-marathon? Do you have a best friend who is an amazing painter? Do you just really love wine? If you’re already doing the research… take it a few steps further and frame it for a print outlet.

Train your mind

I remember when I was in the perfect writer mindset – for a while, everything I saw that was interesting to me or could possibly be interesting to other people, I’d think, “story idea,” and jot it down. Only half of those ideas came to fruition, but I had trained myself to look for things with articles in mind.

Last May, I had an interview at a small newspaper that I believe might not exist now, and I was doing a great job until the editor’s last question. She asked me to think of three possible stories I had seen on my drive over to the office. I blanked. I should have been prepared for this. I don’t remember what I said in response, but I know it was half-hearted, and I’m sure it was perceived that way. I didn’t get the job. Don’t let this happen to you.

Write out your accomplishments

Yes, something else to write. Since writers use technology for nearly everything now, try keeping a writing journal just for a change of pace. Over the past year I have somehow developed the bad habit of only being able to concentrate on one thing for the same length of time it takes to say, chew a bite of food. It’s not really that bad, but it’s something that takes dedicated focus to overcome.

When you go to a café or sit down at your computer with the intention of writing, also jot down your accomplishments as you complete them. This can be as simple as sending an email to an old editor, getting back in touch with someone you wrote about to see if they’re up to anything new, or even writing a blog entry about writing down your accomplishments. Check.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

It can be frustrating to discover that you can no longer write with the same ease or stream of creativity that you had when you wrote regularly. I remember being able to knock out a 450-word news piece in about 15 minutes. And it was good. And it was almost as easy as exhaling. I’d probably have to work pretty hard to do that now.

It’s all about habit. It will come back, I promise. When you feel your chest tightening with frustration, take a deep breath and keep writing. No one has to see it but you, and know that no matter what it is you’re writing, you’re re-training yourself to have those creative juices ready. Remember that writing is what you want to do – and have fun with it.