By using the emotions that come to the surface with a daily writing regimen, method writing will help your writing stay authentic, help you stretch your writer’s wings, and explore aspects of the craft that are way out of your comfort zone.
You’ve learned it from every writing teacher. You’ve read it in every writing book. You’ve seen it on every writing blog. Write. Every. Day.
There isn’t any other way to become a writer. The act of writing makes you a writer, and from writer it’s not so far to the Big A: Author!
But you have to write every day.
There’s only one problem: You have no idea what to write about. How can you possibly come up with 365 ideas every year?
Well for starters, I’m giving you one day off a week to recharge your creative batteries. You’re welcome.
A breakdown of your writing schedule
Let’s assume you’re writing a book, and it’s going to be 70,000 words long. Here’s the breakdown:
- One writing-free day per week: 52 days.
- Outlining your book so it will eventually write itself: 6 weeks, or 36 days.
- Writing the book, with the goal of 1,000 words per day: 70 days.
- Second draft (make sure you put the first draft away for a month before you start the second): 2,000 words per day: 35 days.
- Third draft: 2,500 words per day: 28 days.
Grand total: 221 days, which leaves you with 144 days a year that you need to come up with something to write about. (There’s no time off for dealing with designers, editors, and publishers.)
An inch a day
My favorite way of encouraging writers to write every day is based on Anne Lamott’s “one-inch frame” method, which she discusses in her classic book on writing, Bird by Bird. This means breaking down your subject matter into its smallest component. Here’s how.
Imagine you are looking at the great canvas of your life. Then imagine taking a one-inch picture frame and placing it down on any part of the canvas you choose. That’s all you’re responsible for today; just that one-inch piece. Write about it for 15 minutes. Writing by hand will make the experience even more powerful.
Tomorrow, choose another one-inch piece, and do the same thing. Make your frames as specific and singular as you possibly can. The great things about this method of writing are:
- It’s stress free. You have to come up with only a small piece of your canvas for each session.
- It’s quick. I’m only asking for 15 minutes a day minimum. (Still sound like too much? Read this for inspiration.)
- It’s private. No one will see what you write but you.
- It’s limited. If you’re writing about a painful event, you can tuck it back inside your consciousness in a quarter of an hour. The steam escapes the pressure cooker in increments.
How your memories can help you become a Dominican monk
As memories begin to fill up the pages, so will the gamut of emotions: anger, fear, sadness, happiness, giddiness, surprise, horror, love, hate, regret. This is the secret of writing what you know while at the same time being broad, original, and creative. Let me explain.
I’m sure you’ve heard the famous adage, “Write what you know.” This helps your writing sound and feel more authentic. After all, how authentic can you possibly sound if you‘re writing about a Dominican monk living in the sixteenth century?
On the other hand, writing what you know carries the danger of your prose being boring, narrow, and repetitive.
How do you stay authentic yet fresh? How do you stretch your writer’s wings and explore aspects of the world and its inhabitants that are way out of your comfort zone and knowledge set, while remaining credible? By using those emotions that have come to the surface with your daily writing and plugging them in to different characters, situations, and settings.
I call this system “method writing,” after the term method acting, “a dramatic technique in which actors identify as closely as possible with the character played by correlating experiences from their personal lives to the character.”
In fiction writing, getting in touch with raw and primal emotions allows you to access them later in order to create believable characters and realistic situations. That sixteenth-century monk who’s been overlooked for the job of abbot can benefit from the time your boyfriend dumped you, when you experienced anger, rejection, and hurt.
Emotions and nonfiction
In nonfiction, writing your memories can be invaluable as well. Let’s say you’re writing a book for senior citizens on how to get the most out of a computer. And let’s assume you’ve done your research and know which programs and applications are the most difficult for your target audience to learn and use.
You now have two choices: You could write a dry, scientific-like manual, and it might be very informative, or you could access the frustration you felt trying to memorize the pluperfect and past participle in tenth grade – because last week that was the subject of your daily 15-minute writing session. You will have empathy with your readers, which will shine through the pages of your book, enlivening a potentially dry subject and engaging your audience. This is how to impart your knowledge so that it will be received, understood, and used.
“Method writing” provides everything you need to be a writer: a way to get deep into your characters’ hearts and your readers’ pain points, a framework for writing every day, and an end to writer’s block. So how are you going to come up with 144 different one-inch frames? Glad you asked. See my bio below for a download of exactly 144 writing prompts, and enjoy a year’s worth of method writing.
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