Janine Donoho Creative Writing Habits photo

The Writer’s Cave | Creative Writing Habits to Stimulate Your Muse

Creative writing habits are trained, not born, as Janine Donoho outlines in her how to be an author guest post today. From the actual "sitting down and doing it" to the open and absorptive, dreamy observation of beauty in textures, scents, sounds, sights and movement - all of this is grist to the writer's creative mill.

Read carefully and begin today - create your own writing habits, planting the seeds that bear fruit in published works.

This Writer’s Cave

by Janine Donoho

Janine Donoho Creative Writing Habits photoI’d like to thank Imogen for inviting me to play with her. Her gift of community among writers? Priceless.

Since learning to put chunky crayon to lined paper, I’ve always written. Evidently I’m afflicted with hypergraphia. Plus my work ethic’s ridiculous. Having surpassed Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, I enter my writer’s cave as much through habit as expectation.
Whenever novices ask how to go from unpublished to published, too often with flashing dollar signs in their eyes, I try to oblige. Except for the instant riches part, which involves a stunning convergence of both myth and luck.

So filthy lucre aside, here’s what I’ve gleaned from my cave time:

Read voraciously and without borders, then embrace the analytic approach.

“If writing keeps you off medication? Fine, I get that.”

Not much shocks me, maybe because I worked in male-dominated fields. Still when a budding writer claims she’s not a reader, well...I’m astonished. Go ahead—blame your urge on those voices in your head. If writing keeps you off medication? Fine, I get that. However if you’re interested in writing well, reaching an authentic and competent level of prose while beguiling readers, you must read.

As a person who reads, I’m usually ravenous and careless. Conversely when a storyteller warrants it, I slow down to enjoy each word and each phrase to prolong the joy. Then I return to that story and switch to the critical eye—or try. Sometimes my favorite authors shine with such brilliance, I can’t help myself.

Thus you’ll want to perform an autopsy on chosen stories. How they hook you, why that specific character draws you into her world, why you cry or laugh at certain points, how that plot line makes you gallop along...

Learn from those who’ve ‘mastered’ their craft.

You know who they are—those adepts who captivate you. Their prowess makes you sigh, then realize how far you’ve yet to go. Their mastery comes with a caveat: strive toward virtuosity while understanding that by its very nature, perfection’s unattainable. Then get over it. Even gifted individuals continue to expand their skills. Don’t groan — it can be fun.

“Few of us are willing to devote so much life to a single pursuit.”

This hearkens back to Gladwell’s 10,000, which offers a target. In my experience? I’m thinking 25,000 hours of solitary practice. I know, I know. This requires precious time and effort. Few of us are willing to devote so much life to a single pursuit. As with any goal worth pursuing, it helps to approach this in degrees.

Final caveat: While the Greats offer a terrific starting point, don’t be slavish in emulating them. Find your own voice.

Place your gluteus maximus in the writing chair — habitually

We’re all keen on inspirational lightning strikes. If we’re smart, we thank our Muse so she doesn’t take offense and choose more receptive partners. So go ahead. Jot down the initial impetus, snap a photo, write a scene and sketch a character. Then throw these gifts of insight into a file. Our vision forms word by word, page by page.

To write an actual story, commit to a daily writing practice. Sometimes it helps to clear the decks by scribbling longhand on blank sheets. This method serves me well. Do whatever rids you of debris that hinders, then write with conviction.

“A daily routine strengthens your writing muscles, increases blood flow to your creative centers and helps you find your voice.”

The benefits of this? Regular practice makes for a good habit—as opposed to that half-gallon of ice cream a day. A daily routine strengthens your writing muscles, increases blood flow to your creative centers and helps you find your voice. Perhaps the best reason of all? After 360 days, you’ll have at least 360 pages of words you wrote. That’s known as a body of work.

Surround yourself with inspirational beauty

Why? Beauty breathes joy into us. That begets creativity.

Natural splendor surrounds us, sustaining on many levels. For me the natural world portrays character and drives story. Do I even need to mention my sweet sighthounds? Yes, unconditional love’s welcome, too.

Open your eyes to enchanting objects that fling themselves across your path. A feather, a camel bone container for kohl, unique stones, embellished papyrus, throws and rugs, wearable art... Usually these fit into a pocket or pack while others arrive by slow camel. Rest your gaze upon them as needed.

The upshot? Each elicits memory, emotion and creative thought. Hello, story.

Wander and explore to keep yourself fresh and your mind open

When we write, we go deeply into our caves to unearth treasures. At times our creativity flags. This serves as our cue to replenish what we mine.

Relaxing the mind works wonders on story issues. During a store walkabout, I rarely buy anything, which suits a writer’s pocketbook. Still while scrutinizing fittings for a garden project, a flawed plot device resolves itself. During hikes I’m prone to snap pictures of what delights—or repulses. The former includes kestrel feathers, petrified bones, unique bark. For the latter, think a coyote’s remains, dragged to death by local Troglodytes. In other words, story. Documentaries enrich my scenes, too. Anthropological chronicles of Abkhazians or Inuits offer insight into culture, setting and character.

“Each distant place dwells within, percolating with sensory detail leading to story.”

Driven by curiosity with assists from backpack, public transportation and guest homes worldwide, I travel. Each distant place dwells within, percolating with sensory detail leading to story. Reviewing photos and keepsakes do the same.

Most often reading and exercise serve as my replenishment activities. If I’ve been writing too long, then yoga reenergizes me best. Give yourself permission to choose your own adventure—mini or otherwise.

In conclusion develop a writing habit and you’ll discover your own techniques. Inexperienced writers tend to treat successful authors’ method as sacrosanct. They believe that if they emulate them, they will reach the summit.

My advice? Trust yourself enough to go into your deepest cave. Approach both work and play with joyous ferocity. Write.

For more content, you’re invited into my worlds at http://janinedonoho.wordpress.com.

Thank you for the lovely compliment, Janine - it's true my aim is to create community among writers (not an easy task, since we spend so much time in our caves!).

The first in Janine's Mistborn Chronicles, Born of Mist is available at Amazon.

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