An old adage (and of course we all love old adages) says, “Well-begun is half-done.” It works for me. I notice a huge difference in the amount I accomplish if I hit the ground running shortly after shower, coffee and getting dressed. Slopping around all day in my not-terribly-glamorous old bathrobe is a sure way to make me sloppy about writing. I tend to check out Facebook, the weather, the news . . .
If you’re someone who likes to begin his/her writing day after dinner and carry on deep into the night, what I’m going to say may be useful to you as well. Whenever you begin, have a structure that you follow unless you have a really good reason not to follow it on some occasions. I structure my day as eight hours with an hour for lunch and two or three little breaks.
What works for me is to do some very unstructured writing at the beginning to get my juices flowing. The only thing I’ve found that does this is about half-an-hour of writing exercises, subjects that are unrelated to current writing projects. Interestingly, many of these exercises have later turned into poems and stories.
Over the years, I’ve gathered up a few books of writing “prompts.” Two of my favorites are The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kitely and What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. If you just do a random search for writing prompts you’ll find a treasure trove! For something new every week, you can’t do better than look at the website of the writers’ friend, Poets & Writers. In the menu at the top of the page, you’ll see “writing prompts,” which takes you to The Time Is Now. They post a new poetry prompt on Tuesday, a fiction prompt on Wednesday, and a nonfiction prompt on Thursday. However, although you can find something new every day, don’t overlook the value of doing the same prompt a number of times (on different days). This will give you a lot of faith in your own powers of invention.
I’ll leave you with a small but great resource. I have had some of my most productive periods of free-writing based on simple, humdrum words. Try “brick,” for example and follow where it leads. They thought a lot of this approach in the Middle Ages, when a philosophical idea called “Occam’s Razor” was invented. To make it very simple (that’s it), sometimes the simplest solution is the best one.