Fiction writing has become a way for me to resist the way in which our times literally stifle the creative instincts before they are even born. More and more I have come to believe Internet culture is destroying narrative and thus the human capacity to think for more than 2 seconds straight.
So far, in making the shift to fiction writing, I have learned these few things:
Find your best writing time and protect it. (For me this is early morning.) This is strikingly different for me than academic writing or writing columns which I can do any time.
Never, ever look at social media, online news or email before ‘sitting down to write.’ You’ll never get to the writing because a lot of your brain cells have been killed (or at least severely damaged) by the noise of the Internet. Yes, I am aware of the irony that I write for an online news source.
Pick a block of time and commit to writing that amount of time every day. Even sitting down and thinking is a great creative exercise if nothing comes to you that you want to write.
‘I’m not a writer,’ you say. I have a colleague who is very creative, and his response to our times is to draw wonderfully complex pictures from nature. I plan to use one such drawing (he has given me permission) as the cover of my third mystery novel. The key thing is to feed your brain.
When I come to the end of my pre-set writing period, I stop. Suit yourself, of course, but I find that creative writing can only be done for a couple of hours at most.
Read. To hold on to the mind’s capacity for narrative, I think you have to feed it. I have been reading novels from more than 50 years ago and the difference in sustained narrative from today’s fiction is quite striking. Even writers are at risk of losing the narrative capacity.
If possible, find a friend or friends who will read your stuff and give you feedback. This is a great gift. They don’t need to be writer friends, but they do need to be those who appreciate what fiction means. Or, in the case of my colleague’s drawings, I look at them and give him feedback from time to time. And believe me, my capacity to draw is nil. But I look and think.
I am leading a writers workshop in the fall and these thoughts are part of my notes on my own process I have made in order to share with others, but they are by no means the only way to reclaim your creativity.
I do think, however, taking back your own brain from our times is an imperative.
Let me know what you think.