“Writing is the way to get the writing done.” Thus ends Donald Murray’s aptly titled article “How to Get the Writing Done.” The author offers nineteen suggestions that put a different spin on how to tackle the daunting task of putting words on the page. The tone of the piece is admittedly tongue in cheek, but each time I reread it, I feel inspired. I’m gearing up to submit short pieces for publication on a regular basis in 2017, so no more excuses for not getting the writing done!
- Write Now
- Purposeful Interruption
- Change Your Working Style
- Count Words, Pages, or Hours
- Work Within the Draft
- Answer the Reader’s Questions
- Make What Works Better
- Make Use of Failure
- Write in Chunks
- Write with Force; Unleash the Draft
The text of Murray’s article isn’t available online, but it does appear in the book The Craft of Revision. It’s advice that I’ve played over and over in the back of my mind through the years as well as using the article in the creative writing class for secondary students that I taught for three years.
What helps or appeals to a writer when it comes to getting the writing done will vary from day to day and project to project. In any case, the following three have served me well, and I have excerpted them for you today. I hope Murray’s advice makes you want to seek out more of his work.
Consult: Develop a writing community with which you can talk about what you may write, what you are writing—and rewriting. I have developed my own community by sharing my writing first. Then some of them share theirs. We consult on what we may write, what we are writing, what works, and what needs work. I not only receive help from the writers in my community; I hear the answers to my writing problems in what I way to them.
I have one rule for admission to my writing community: I only invite people to join who make me want to write when I finish talking to them.
Attitude: Every writer goes to the writing desk with a set of assumptions that may make the writing difficult or easy. For years I wanted to impress teachers, editors, and associates I didn’t even like. I also want to write perfect copy the first time out. But I learned to follow William Stafford’s advice:
I believe that the so-called “writing block” is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance… [O]ne should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.
I can imagine a person beginning to feel he’s not able to write up to that standard he imagines the world has set for him. But to me that’s surrealistic. The only standard I can rationally have is the standard I’m meeting right now… you should be more willing to forgive yourself. It doesn’t make any difference if you are good or bad today. The assessment of the product is something that happens after you’ve done it.
Write in Chunks: John Steinbeck once wrote:
When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.
All of us feel despair and hopeless when we contemplate a long writing project. I was comforted by Steinbeck’s quotation and by the answer of a woman who spent many days and nights climbing a huge rock face in California. When asked how she stuck it out, she answered: “You eat an elephant one bit at a time.” Break long writing tasks into daily bites.
So short of strapping yourself to your desk chair, what tricks do you use to get the writing done?
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Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2016.