In the late spring of 2011, I left my job at the Salt Lake City Public Library to become a stay at home father. It was a hard transition, giving up the career I loved much earlier than I expected, and trying to figure out who I was without that title of Librarian.
I admit it was more difficult than I ever let on, and more often than not, I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, contributing enough. I had to find my routines, and then realize that my spouse and kids were quite pleased with the efforts I was making.
The awesome part- My kids are pretty damn self sufficient, which left me ample time to reconnect with my writing. My skills were stronger with poetry, but I’d always dabbled in fiction, and really wanted to stretch those muscles. I had an idea for a longer piece that I thought might be book length. Full of excitement and fear, I sat down at my computer and tried to write. It was awful. I wrote myself into corners, kept trying to edit while I wrote (which slowed me to a crawl), and after a fifth botched attempt, decided I needed more practice and advice.
Writing was always something I loved, but I had not made it a habit. I wrote when the mood struck, which worked for some ideas, but often my efforts were frustrating and nothing worth keeping was created.
On the suggestion of a good friend, I really started to read. Not just read for content or plot, but observe how the stories were told, how the sentences were constructed. I found style elements that I liked, and incorporated them into stories I was working on. I began to find my writing voice.
I don’t remember where I read it, or if maybe I came up with the idea all on my own, but I started writing what I call Daily Paragraphs. Each morning, I would sit at my desk and write. It didn’t matter what it was, and I never edited. I limited myself to three paragraphs. If I found I needed to expand the idea, I’d shift over to another document and write until I the story was finished or I had a good start on something I could finish later. Many of those daily writings became short fiction pieces that I’ve shared on this blog. Others were catalysts for longer work, and two of them became the bones of two of my completed novels (representation, anyone?)
Once I made writing a habit, treated it as I would exercise (never forget, intelligence is a muscle. If you don’t work on it, you’ll lose it), I found I could push through difficult moments in my writing when I wasn’t always sure where to go next. My blog was born out of the Daily Paragraphs as I found I needed an outlet for ideas that weren’t necessarily stories. It still took me three more years until I could hone those early ideas into complete novel length works, but I think I’d still be floundering if not for the decision to make writing habitual.
What writing habits do you have and how have they improved your writing skills? How messy was my desk? How much coffee should I drink? These are important questions, people.