How Do You Start Writing? Think Like A Writer! #10minnovelists #setthetimer
Katharine Grubb of 10 Minute Novelists has a brand new book out and it delves into questions such as how do you start writing, how do you visualize yourself as a writer, and how do you get your writing done. Below, Katharine tells you a little about her book Think Like A Writer In 10 Minutes A Day and shares an excerpt. If you’re a new writer, or if you’re having trouble fitting writing into a busy schedule, then it’s time for you to meet Katharine!
Are you a writer? Or are you not one? Do you see yourself as a writer?
Have you fallen in love with the written word? Have you ever savored a story, wondered how words came together, longed to see your name on a cover?
Have you ever thought you’d like to create something, anything, with words, but you don’t know how?
The first step? See yourself as one. Then, as you get used to this new “identity”, you can take steps to physically and emotionally set yourself up to be productive. This will mean creating a writing space, organizing your time, seeking inspiration, and writing regularly without fear.
I made this jump from non-writer to writer back in 2006. I had five children, all eight years old and younger, and decided that it was time to restart my lifelong dream to be a writer. Once I saw myself as a writer, grew in organization and discipline, and conquered my fears, I finished projects and published them. Since 2006, I’ve written ten books.
My newest book Think Like A Writer In 10 Minutes A Day is for the hesitant writer who hasn’t made that jump yet from non-writer to beginner. This book is for that critical first step: to think like one.
Here is an excerpt of the book’s introduction.
Back in the early days of my writing life I was asked one question more than any other: “Are you a pantser or a plotter?” I don’t remember how I answered because I don’t remember understanding what they were talking about. I found out later, that this ubiquitous, reductionist, and rather uninteresting question was really asking, “How do you think?”
If I answered, “I’m a plotter,” then it would be assumed that I had studied story structure, logically worked out plot points, and analytically planned my story before I began the drafting process. If I answered, “I’m a ‘pantser’,” then that I would imply that I “wrote by the seat of my pants,” pursuing emotional tangents rather than a strict plan, and preferring creative spontaneity instead of structure. If I did have a preference, and it was the opposite choice of the person who asked the question, then I may have received a condescending rebuttal on why my choice was “incorrect.” Sometimes it might even be implied that once I claimed a “side” I had to be loyal to that “side” for the rest of my career.
All of that is hogwash. In reality all writers, whether they want to admit it or not, need both approaches in the way that they think not just of their stories, but also of their writing goals.
What does it mean to think like a writer? There are as many ways to think about and approach writing as there are books on a public library’s shelf. Writers, especially new ones, don’t need a false dichotomy to dictate how they should approach their writing. Both “pantsers” and “plotters” think like writers, and if they are comfortable with their methods, then they are successful at it. How much more interesting it would be if writers were asked instead, “Oh, you’re a writer too? How do you process your ideas?” Or, “What’s going through your mind when you create?”
All successful authors, back in the beginning of their careers, to a mental leap and first saw themselves as writers. They set up their lives, physically and emotionally to achieve their writing goals. They all, for lack of a better term, had a writer mode in their settings, either analytical or emotional (or a combination of both) and tuned into it as they worked on their projects.
If they were in “writer mode” then they organized at their time and resources in such a way that they were able to get their writing done. In “writer mode” they were conscientious of their environment, looking constantly for inspiration, and came up with ideas from a myriad of places. But also, because “writer mode” is solitary, they may have faced self-doubt and fear, and perhaps slipped into despair. (Sadly, thinking like a writer has a sordid history.) All writers, new and experienced, have to set their minds intentionally, and decisively, on what they want to accomplish or they will never see their dreams come true.
I had to make that decision too. Back in 2006, I had five small children, all 8 years old and younger, and I thought it was the perfect time to start my writing career. Even though I didn’t know how to begin, I decided to commit at least ten minutes a day to my writing dream. I had to think differently in order to become something different. I had to change the way that I viewed my time, energy, and environment, to meet this simple goal. I knew I needed to think like a writer in order to be one. But I didn’t know to do that, so I guessed.
I read library books on writing, scoured writing blogs for fresh insight (whose advice was often contradictory), and slapped together my first website. I “pantsed” well over 200,000 words on my first novel before I formulated some sort of plot. I probably could have saved a lot of time had I a plan of action, or a community, or even another writer to tell me what to do next. I wanted to think and act like a writer, but I had no idea what that was, so I just followed every whim. For better or worse, I “pantsed” my way into thinking like a writer.
Had I “plotted” my way into thinking like I writer, I might have created a regular writing schedule, and equip myself better in organization and discipline. I would have educated myself on storytelling basics. I would have read more books that were similar to what I wanted to write. I would have worked more deliberately to expose myself to culture and beauty so I would be inspired. I would have understood that all writers struggle to find their voice and purpose. I would have come to terms with my emotional resistance, who kept telling me “what makes you think you can pull this off?” I probably could have thought like a writer from the beginning, but I couldn’t get out of my own head to do it.
What I needed to learn came 10 years after I started: I finally realized that writerly brilliance was not ever easy.
Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, had the truth I needed. “A brilliant author or businesswoman or senator or software engineer is brilliant only in tiny bursts. The rest of the time, they’re doing work that most any trained person could do. It might take a lot of tinkering or low-level work or domain knowledge for that brilliance to be evoked, but from the outside, it appears that the art is created in the moment, not in tiny increments.” (P. 51.)
I did get the tiny increment part right. It was in 2006, in between childcare, household management, and homeschooling that I began to set my timer for 10 minutes. I put the time in, but how much more efficient that time would have been had I been thinking like a writer in the first place.
This book is for the new writer who is facing the ocean of possibility as a fiction writer and doesn’t know what to do. This is a hand-holding, coaxing book of instruction to new writers who don’t have the skills or courage to put their toes in the water, much less sail. This book is meant to save the struggle of figuring things out for the first time fiction writer. To change metaphors, my previous book, Write A Novel in Ten Minutes A Day, is the Couch25K for fiction writers, but Think Like A Writer in 10 Minutes A Day, is picking out the first pair of sneakers. After each section, this book provides exercises that can be done in a series of 10 minute increments. They are meant to be personal, journal type responses with no real deadline, and certainly no right answers. To do the exercises, you’ll need a notebook, or a new document on your laptop, or some way to keep everything together. You can do these exercises as you see fit, perhaps one a day. Some can be accomplished in 10 minutes, some will require several 10 minute increments. All are completed when you say they are.
This book is divided in three sections. The first section will address the more analytical, logical parts of writing. In this part, I’ll be leading you through exercises to help you clarify your personal definition of success, challenge you to use your time and space better, and review you on the basic understanding of writing skills. These are important concepts, but they’re not that sexy, so we’re addressing them first to get them out of the way. If you are really into Seth Godin or Getting Things Done, you’re going to love this part. Each of the exercises, in this, the logistical thinking section, will help you think more objectively about your writing journey.
Then, the second part will address the more touchy-feely, artsy-fartsy ways in which you can think like a writer. In this section, I will be encouraging you to get in touch with your feelings, identify yourself as a creative person and speak to yourself about your desires to write. Then, we’ll wrap it up on the importance of authenticity in your writing and how to tap into your reality as a creative person. If you are really into Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, then you are going to love this part of the book. Go ahead, write in the margins. Stain the pages with your tears. That’s what the emotional thinking part of the book is there for.
But there’s a third part too, resistant thinking. This part is arguably the most important, because if you can’t manage it, you certainly can’t succeed in the writing world. Like it or not, there is a part of your brain that is quite happy if you stay on your couch, flip back and forth between Netflix and Hulu, and eat your weight in Hot Pockets. This part of your brain does not want think like a writer. This part of your brain knows that writing is hard, so it will do everything to stop you. It will throw you lies, doubts, fears, and the reminder of what that teacher said to you about that poem you wrote all those years ago. If you have read Austin Kleon, or know what lizard brain means, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I have a section here to help you combat resistant thinking and hopefully prepare you for the constant battle resistant thinking will fight as long as you decide to pursue this dream.
Brenda Ueland said this in her book If You Want To Write (p. 4) “Everybody is talented because everybody who is human has something to express.” I believe that because you chose to read this book that you have something to express too. Perhaps like me, you need to get yourself out of your own head, think like a writer is supposed to think, and begin your journey.
1.1 Find a way to journal; either create a new document on your computer, a note on your phone, or pick up a cheap notebook somewhere, set a timer for ten minutes and write the answer to this question: Based on the Brenda Ueland quote you read above, what would you like to express?
1.2 Would you most likely be a “plotter” or a “pantser”? Why?
1.3 Which of the ways of thinking: logical, emotional, or resistant, do you think is the easiest to understand and practice? Which do you think will be most challenging to learn about?
More About Katharine
Katharine Grubb is an almost-done-homeschooling mother, poet, hybrid author, camping enthusiast and confident home cook who thinks that she is the funniest person in her family. She is the founder and CEO of 10 Minute Novelists and lives in Central Massachusetts, USA, with her husband and a ever-varying number of her five mostly-grown children. She is the author of Write A Novel In Ten Minutes A Day (Hodder & Stoughton, 2015.)
Can you relate to any of the above struggles? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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