One of my favorite books growing up was LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott. Jo March, the main character, is an aspiring writer. Whenever she gets into author mode, she puts on a hat that she calls her writing cap. Any time she wears this hat, her family knows to leave her alone because some serious work is going on.
I think all writers are creatures of habit in some way or another. We find a process that works for us and keep at it, and a personal writing ritual is born.
There’s the perfect environment, for one. I know someone who works best in a coffee shop because her creativity thrives on noise, while another friend of mine needs absolute silence to be productive. For those of us who listen to music while writing, song choice is crucial because, let’s face it, heavy metal just doesn’t cut it when you need inspiration for your love scene. (Or maybe it does. To each her own!)
I got to thinking about my own writing ritual and the things I need in order to get in the zone.
What is your favorite writing ritual?
My parents were Vietnamese immigrants who had been living in the U.S. for barely a decade when I was born. True to the customs of their culture, they had always intended that their three children pursue successful careers in math and science. Must have been a shocker when they discovered that their only daughter would rather read than do her times tables.
I was sort of delicate when I was growing up (read: introverted and athletically challenged), so my mom would make sure I stayed inside for recess during the wintertime. While my friends threw snowballs and dangled from monkey bars, I sat in the library under the librarian’s watchful eye. And I was perfectly happy about it. I can still remember those magical afternoons of planting myself on cushions by the hamster cage, devouring stack upon stack of books.
Eventually I discovered that I too could write stories. My first attempts were imitations of books I had read, childish interpretations of fairy tales that I painstakingly stapled together and illustrated. I started scrawling “written by Julie Dao” on the covers and thus began a lifelong love affair.
I wrote my first original “novel” when I was nine years old. The faded spiral notebook is currently sitting in a cluttered box in my apartment, and whenever I get discouraged about writing, I take it down, dust it off, and remember how long I have loved doing this.
I continued writing all through my childhood and finally stopped in high school. I had this huge fight with my dad at the end of junior year, the first of many similar disagreements. I’ve already mentioned that he and my mom are old-school Asian parents, and most old-school Asian parents give their kids very limited career options – none of which include writing novels.
Dad: So, you’re going to college very soon.
Me: Yeah, I’m going to apply to places in Boston and maybe Cornell too.
Dad: Good, good. What are you going to study?
Me: I don’t really know. I’m not sure what I want to do.
Dad: (nods sagely) You got an 85 in chemistry. Don’t do chemistry.
Me: (eyeroll when Dad’s not looking) Well, I’m good at reading and writing.
Dad: Okay… What else are you good at?
Me: (racking my brains) Uhhh, nothing?
Dad: That’s not true, you got excellent grades in biology, and you like biology. (hopeful) You could be a doctor.
Me: I don’t know, Dad, maybe. It’s just that I’ve always been good at writing…
Dad: Yeah, but you’ll be poor.
Me: How do you know? Not all writers are poor, Dad.
Dad: (emphatically) They are all poor. They can’t take their kids to McDonald’s.
Me: Uh, yeah they can. And what about Stephen King and Tom Clancy and Anne Rice and Amy Tan, Dad?
Dad: They’re just lucky. If you try to be like them, you’ll starve.
Me: You don’t know that! What if I really want to give it a try?
Dad: (goes ballistic)
I know he only wanted the best for me. I could kind of see his point at the time and I twisted it to fit my own ends: major in science so I can have something to fall back on if writing doesn’t work out. I convinced myself that I wasn’t being chicken, that I was actually being smart by giving my writing up. I told myself this so often that I started to believe it.
I wouldn’t say it made me unhappy – I just felt unfulfilled. I liked biology well enough and I pulled good grades in college, but it just seemed so bland to me somehow. I just didn’t love it the way I loved … but no, I wouldn’t let myself think about that.
It was shortly after my parents’ divorce, about a year after I graduated from college, when it happened. I was moving out of my mom’s house and I was packing some boxes. In the back of my closet, hidden under piles of schoolwork, my prom dress, and a bunch of old yearbooks, I found a cardboard box containing the dozens of journals, diaries, and notebooks I had filled up with thoughts and dreams and stories over the years.
I just sat there, surrounded by suitcases and half-packed crates, and started reading. Some of what I read made me smile; some of it made me laugh. But most of it made me cry. I lay in bed that night, the last night I would spend in my childhood room, and thought hard.
The next day, I started to write again. And there’s no going back now – I’m here to stay!
I have a weird form of writer’s block. Instead of not being able to write anything at all, I can’t seem to finish things that I begin. I get a story idea, expand it, write 5000 words, and then lose interest. The result is a cluttered desktop folder full of story fragments and abandoned half-novels.
I guess it’s not so much writer’s block as it is writer’s ADD. I have too many ideas and not enough motivation to see each one through to the end. I’m not quite sure how to fix this yet.
I’m more familiar with actual writer’s block. If I sit down to write and the words just won’t flow:
Lately, the last option has just been distracting me from my original project. Yesterday I tried to build up my measly 2000-word WIP, got a new idea, and wrote three whole pages of a completely different story. Maybe I’m just afraid of forgetting good ideas when I get them?
It’s kind of a problem because I want to be published someday and apparently, publishers like completed stories. (Weird, huh?)
I hope this goes away soon…
I’m planning on writing an actual novel this summer! I have two or three ideas so I just need to test them all out, see which one is most viable, and then run with it. If I finish by early fall, I’ll have a few months to polish it up in time for next year’s ABNA. I just heard about it from a blog friend and it sounds fun.
I’ll be lucky if my pitch makes it through (apparently that cut is the toughest stage) but what’s most attractive to me is the fact that people can review your story. It’ll be exciting to get feedback from strangers because a) if you get good reviews, you’ll know they are real because these people aren’t biased and b) if you get bad reviews, again they’re not biased and they are all readers/writers who probably know what they’re talking about. You can find out how to improve and it’s also nice that you get to put your name out there. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!
I hate being so busy that there isn’t any time to write. I wish it were my full-time job. Maybe someday!
Whether you are a friend, a family member, or a stranger passing by, welcome to my blog. I decided to start one for many reasons, but the biggest of all is probably the most obvious: to fuel my love for writing. I’ve been doing it ever since I was old enough to hold a pen. Whether it was illustrating my own short stories, selling my first novel to my fourth-grade classmates for a nickel a copy, or publishing a weekly newspaper for my family, I was never happier than when sitting with a stack of paper, letting my imagination run rampant.
Convinced that my hobby was, well, just a hobby, I switched gears in college and majored in science. Even as I sketched amino acids and memorized body systems with an eye on med school, I had the feeling that I’d turned my back on something I really wanted. After graduation in May ’07, I got a job in a research lab, eager to put off further studies for as long as possible. These one-and-a-half years of being away from the books have opened my eyes and convinced me that I won’t ever be truly happy without writing. I want to be able to wake up every day and be excited about what I do.
Now that the hard part is over, I’ve been reintroducing writing into my life. I wanted to dedicate a blog to my journey, so that’s what this is for – my ideas, progress, and maybe even some free-writing. Even if my dream never comes true, at least I’ll be doing and sharing what I love with all of you.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be updating soon. 🙂