The most productive writers I’ve known develop skills and techniques that carry them through episodes of writer’s block, procrastination, and loss of focus. Writing is an art, a craft and a discipline. It takes a lot of energy and creativity to work all alone for the most part, to overcome bumps in the road and keep getting to the bottom of another page.
Take a look at some of the writing habits of Norman Mailer, Tom Robbins and other notable authors, and see if any of these might also work for you.
1. Take notes ~ Norman Mailer always carried a little notebook. I’d see him at parties or on the streets of Manhattan or Provincetown muttering to himself, reading something, talking earnestly to someone and he’d whip out a very small spiral bound notebook and write something down.
I took Claude Brown to visit Norman once and he spotted the little notebook. From then on, Claude always carried one too. In fact at Claude’s funeral, they put one of his notebooks in his hand to hold before closing the casket.
2. Rewrite 40 times ~ Tom Robbins says he does that and I believe him. When he was writing Jitterbug Perfume he’d read me passages out loud to see how it sounded, then go back and write it again. I’ve never met a writer who spent more time polishing his metaphors.
3. Listen to music ~ Garth Stein played the Beastie Boys album In the Grooves and also R.E.M. while he was writing his new best seller, The Art of Racing in the Rain. “I couldn’t listen to the Beatles because I’d just want to sing along.”
4. Research ~ Robert Ludlum read voraciously into voluminous volumes on World War Two before he wrote his first book The Scarlatti Inheritance, and found the historical verisimilitude to create believable fantasies about huge Nazi conspiracies that tried to conquer the world.
5. Use a tape recorder ~ Hunter Thompson famously taped sections of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail and Curse of Lono, as I’ve described here. The trick is to take the transcriptions and edit, edit, edit.
Hunter had another idea that helped him write, which was to type out The Great Gatsby, start to finish, one word at a time, so he could “know how it felt to write like that.”
6. Go to the woods ~ Michael Gurian has a cabin a few miles from his home. It’s quiet, peaceful, no TV or phone. Lots of writers travel far to find this kind of solitude, but he’s lucky it’s nearby.
7. Imagine the deaths of your enemies ~ Herbert Gold, a dear friend and a prolific writer, still going strong at 84, left this message on my phone about how he faces the blank page each day:
“I look around desperately,
Imagine the deaths of my enemies,
Bless my children,
Sit at my ancient Royal typewriter,
Play kitten on the keys
Hope something happens
And oh yes –
Sometimes I drink a cup of coffee and take a pee.”