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11 Good (Nature) Writing Habits

I’m afraid I can’t remember where I first read these or who wrote them, or even if I might have added one or two points myself. I have them hand written on a piece of paper which stands on the ledge of my roll-top desk, between my TODAY pebble and my sand dollar. When I look up from my laptop, there they are, gently reminding me of what I should be doing. I offer them again here, with some additional thoughts:

1. Be observant. And mindful of details. Peoples’ expressions, the things they say, their mannerisms. The tiny happenings around them. The precise colour and shape of an autumn leaf, they way water moves. John Steinbeck devotes a memorable paragraph to the behaviour of a housefly in The Wayward Bus.

2. Read and take notes. I do this a lot, especially when I read on my Kindle with its built-in highlighting and note-taking functions. Currently I’m reading Liz Cunningham’s Ocean Country and have highlighted numerous passages for future reference.

3. Protect the time and space in which you write. This isn’t easy if you have a family or a job. Or both. I find my best writing time is in the evening, after the kids (this includes my husband) have gone to bed.

4. Make time to write every day. I’m not so great at this (see earlier point). But full of good intentions!

5. Work disconnected from the internet. This one I have a lot of trouble with. In fact, I can’t do it. It’s too much to ask of me. You know how some people need to be drip fed coffee? Well, I need to be connected to the internet. I need to hear the tinkle of my iPad when my mother finally plays her Scrabble move, and the ping my e-mail makes when another message arrives (it might be an editor accepting a publication!) and the bleep Facebook utters when – yes! – somebody commented on my latest blog post!

6. Always carry a notebook. Yep, I do this. No matter that its pages are as virginal as a snowdrift in the Arctic.

7. Read your work out loud to yourself, to hear its rhythms. A wonderful tip, this. It works a treat. Almost as effective as having somebody else critique your work. Every one of my stories that gets submitted to a literary journal first has to pass this test.

8. Keep a journal. I really like the idea of this. I’ve bought notebooks and agendas galore with it in mind. In fact, I recently tried again. Today is the 27th of September; my last entry was... let me see... on the 15th. Twelve days ago! How did that happen?! Must write an entry today...

9. Know where you’ll pick up the next day. Was it Hemingway who said this? It really works for me. Nothing worse than staring at the screen and having no idea where to start. But if I finish the previous day’s work in the middle of a paragraph, already with an idea of what comes next, I can start typing the moment I sit at my laptop... and away I go!

10. Back up your work. Sadly, this is one of those habits that many writers learn only after having suffered the excruciating loss of all their brilliant work for one unforeseen reason or another. So, take it from one who has learned, do this right now. Yes, now. NOW, I say!

11. Be disciplined about your writing habits! Hmmm. I suspect I might have added this point myself ;-)

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© 2014-2020, Jessica Groenendijk