Writing Advice

Ways I Approach Writing: Other People’s Ideas and a Neil Young Jam

When the subject of penning a book comes up in conversation, I’ve had a variety of people tell me they’ve had a great story idea bouncing around their heads for years. Sometimes it’s a fictional novel idea, and sometimes it’s that they think their memoirs would be interesting. It might sound mean, but I think most people vastly underestimate how interesting a memoir has to be to ever get close to being published.  Or a fictional story, for that matter. Anybody who has published a book gets the inevitable “I have a great story idea!” from folks who mostly mean well. The translation of that is often “I have a story idea that I’d like you to write for me because I’ll never get around to it but want to see it in full book form.”  Writers generally have a regularly replenishing well of ideas. Ideas are cool, but the execution is what matters.

It sounds ridiculously simple, and it’s a common refrain heard among people who write seriously, but the hard truth is that you have to WRITE to finish things and KEEP writing to get better at it. The chance of completing a manuscript is exponentially higher simply by starting. It can be short, maybe just a page or two, as long as you feel like you moved something from point A to point B (physically or metaphysically). If you can do that, then honestly reread and be self-critical without depressing yourself too much, you have a shot at fleshing out your idea. Or you’ll realize your idea sucks and stop talking to me about it, which is also okay.

People are also curious what tips or behaviors can help them really get writing. My initial snarky thought is that if you have to ask, you probably can’t do it well. That is definitely not true or fair. Developing the ability to focus and write is absolutely learnable, but only through your own trial and error. So, I can’t give hard and fast rules about how to write –especially because I have much to learn myself—but I can share the little things that help me actually write instead of watching more YouTube videos.

While working on a book manuscript, my favorite thing is to begin each writing session with the same song every time. It acts as a cue to my brain that it’s time to start writing, provides comfort and relaxation, and brings me back into the world of the story. I found it helps to choose a nice long song. For As the Raven Flies, I started most of my writing by listening to “Down by the River” by Neil Young. It’s a great rhythmic tune with a lot of jamming that rides an awesome bassline, and it’s nearly ten minutes long. Without thinking about it, I started listening to it every time I sat down to write. Eventually, it became a conscious ritual that worked for me.

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