And now for something completely different. I have a post from a friend and fellow author, Jon Richter. He has a new book coming out in a few days, follow the links and get your copy!

Hi everybody!  My name is Jon Richter, and I’m lucky enough to be a stablemate of Don’s at TCK Publishing, who recently published my first ever cyberpunk novel, London 2039: Auxiliary. I’ve also been known to dabble in crime thrillers and even short horror fiction, but whatever your preferred genre, there are a lot of tips and tricks that are common to any writing project.  I’ve really enjoyed Don’s recent series of writing tips, and thought that for my guest post I’d contribute some of my own!

Inspiration for Writing

Now that I’ve confessed to being something of a genre-hopper, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on some of my sources of inspiration.  I know a lot of writers, both successful and aspirational ones, who have found themselves in the grip of the dreaded ‘writer’s block’, unable to commit a single word to paper.  I’ve also had similar bouts, and although I think the notion of ‘writer’s block’ is misguided and can make a creative barren spell seem like a much bigger deal than it actually is, I do sympathise* with anyone struggling to get going with a writing project.  There are a number of things that can cause such stagnation, but I know that one major blocker can be the perceived lack of A BIG IDEA.  How are you supposed to write when you can’t think of anything good to write about?

Thankfully, there are a number of remedies for this.

Let It Flow

The first is to stop filtering yourself.  If I had a gun to your head (don’t worry, I promise we won’t need to go that far) I’m sure you could come up with ten ideas in the space of a minute, even if they were half-baked or borderline plagiarism.  This doesn’t mean they’re all good ideas, but my point is that you might be writing them off too quickly, even the ones that seem like thinly-veiled rip-offs.  There are a very large number of successful, and indeed some very good, books that are largely devoid of any original concepts.  Many writers choose to riff on traditional tropes or expand on another’s ideas, and that’s fine – and often an original spin will emerge during the writing process.

Get Your Fingers Working

This leads into my second point: I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage ‘writers write’, and there’s no idiom more annoying when you’re stuck in a rut, but it really is the best advice out there.  Stop waiting for inspiration, and just start writing anyway.  Write whatever comes into your head.  Even if it’s autobiographical.  Even if it’s just wallowing in self-pity.  Even if it feels like the worst piece of microfiction ever written.  You’ll find that your brain and your fingers start working together to open up some new synaptic pathways… see, there I go, utter bollocks, but at least I enjoyed writing it!  The point is that just the act of writing itself will generate inspiration.  And if it helps to imagine me with that .44 Magnum levelled* at your temple, go right ahead!  (I’m British, so the closest I’ll ever get to a Magnum is the ice cream variety.)

Quit Filtering Your Creativity

Similar to this is the idea of ‘brainstorming’.  Here, the goal isn’t to start an actual writing project, but instead to create a list of bullet point ideas, just a completely unfiltered mind dump of anything and everything you can think of.  Imagine that Magnum again (not the tasty chocolatey one) and imagine you’ve been told to scribble down twenty story titles, or plot ideas, or character sketches, or settings, in the next two minutes – then pick your favourite* one and start writing about it!

Riffing

Short stories are also a great solution.  Not every paragraph you write has to be the opening to a future Booker Prize winner; sometimes they can just be a throwaway piece of short fiction.  This can really take the pressure off, and you might find yourself really happy with some of the results.  This is how my first short story horror collection came about!  The point here is to take the pressure off yourself: you’re writing because you love writing, not because your work is going to be judged by some faceless scrutiny panel.

Writers Write… And They Read

Another tonic is to make sure you are consuming fresh fiction yourself.  Whether this is books, movies, TV shows or even video games (there are some great stories in the gaming world if you can avoid all the Candy Crush and Fortnite rubbish), you will find the ideas of other creators a goldmine of new inspiration… and remember, without exception, every one of them was in turn inspired by a piece of literature they themselves experienced.  There’s nothing at all to be ashamed of if you want to write something inspired by someone else’s work – after all, isn’t that how genres came to exist in the first place?

Make It A Habit

My final suggestion is to schedule your writing time, like an inescapable appointment with yourself.  This prospect may fill you with dread (it definitely does with me!) but the point here is to force yourself to avoid procrastination.  Do you constantly delay the start of your writing session because there’s laundry to do, clothes to iron, work to catch up on, a TV show you want to watch?  You can still do all of those things… just not right now, because this is your designated writing time.  I find that playing music while I write helps, because it gives me something to look forward to alongside the writing itself.  A two-hour writing window with a 1,500-word minimum target can sound daunting, but two hours of listening to your favourite* movie soundtracks while you have a bit of creative fun seems okay, doesn’t it?

I hope this has been useful, and has given you some useful suggestions for your next literary lull.  If you want to find out more about my weird dark fiction, take a look at www.jon-richter.com, or search for my new cyberpunk thriller London 2039: Auxiliary on Amazon, where it’s available in paperback or for your eReader device.  My enormous thanks go to Don for letting me invade his blog for the day, and I’d urge you to check out his gripping debut thriller The Guilty Die Twice too.  Whatever remains of your day, I hope it’s a good one!

JR

*Jon’s English, he lives in London, so we can excuse his spelling.

This is the sixth of a 6-part series on the W’s. Coming into the home stretch.

WHAT is happening? – Apparent Event
WHAT do you want? – Actual Event
WHERE are you? – Environment
WHO are you? – Character and Relationship
WHAT is the obstacle? – Conflict
WHAT just happened? – The Moment Before

What Just Happened? – The Moment Before

This part is essential for an actor, as it determines his character’s state immediately before the scene starts. Does he come in calm, cool, and collected, or does he enter in a rush, frazzled, beside himself. The moment before matters. It’s vital. It determines the audience’s first glimpse of that character in that particular scene.

But what if you’re a novelist? Does the moment before matter for your characters on the page?

Maybe it matters more than it does to an actor.

The Moment Before Can Be Told

For an actor, the moment before is only shown through the lens of behavior; the audience will never see it, unless it’s from the scene immediately preceding. For a writer… ah, for a writer the moment before can come alive on the page.

Remember, the unique strength of prose is that it reveals the characters’ inner lives. Their internal voices. For a writer, their characters’ moments before not only can be told, those moments must be told for the narrative to make sense.

Let’s go back to our birthday party example. You know the apparent event, the actual event, the environment, a relationship, the conflict, and now you give your hero a moment before. She’s just been evicted. She’s effectively homeless now.

Would that change the way she approaches the conflict? Absolutely, desperation makes people do odd things. Would being evicted change the way she approaches the apparent event? Of course, maybe she now thinks she has nothing to lose… or, maybe she’s already lost too much and needs to re-think things.

The Resolution Of A Scene Leads To The Next Moment Before

This only stands to reason, but so many writers forget it. No matter how the particular scene you’re writing ends, it’s the moment before for the next scene. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end, as it were.

In our example, let’s say our hero musters up the courage to go through with it, and tell her ex-husband she’s moving across the country with their son. How does the husband react? Not well, obviously, or there wouldn’t be much of a story. But say he threatens the hero, tells her that she can run but she can’t hide. He’s going to find her no matter what.

What does the hero do next? Whatever it is, it’s going to be with that threat hanging over her head.

Of course, the resolution of the scene for the ex-husband is also his moment before his next scene.

Next time: we’ll put it all together.

This is the fifth of a 6-part series on the W’s. Coming into the home stretch.

WHAT is happening? – Apparent Event
WHAT do you want? – Actual Event
WHERE are you? – Environment
WHO are you? – Character and Relationship
WHAT is the obstacle? – Conflict
WHAT just happened? – The Moment Before

What Is The Obstacle? – Conflict

Every scene needs conflict, otherwise, why spend your precious word count on it? But there is a lot of misunderstanding about what, exactly, conflict is. Does it mean a fistfight? Well… obviously. But every scene can’t have a fistfight, unless it’s one of the Fast and Furious movies.

Think of ‘conflict’ as something that stands between the hero and her goals for that scene. Let’s remember that there’s always an Actual event for your main characters, something they want to achieve, a goal they need to reach. The conflict is something that prevents them from reaching that goal.

If you want to take a third-grade understanding of this, the obstacle is a physical thing. An actual barrier. If you’re writing an adventure story then a physical barrier is a real possibility. That big rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you’re writing a story about star-crossed lovers, however, the obstacle is almost never going to be physical, it’s going to be emotional. The boy is forbidden by his parents from seeing the girl, who is herself torn between the safe choice and the boy. The path of true love never runs straight.

The Obstacle Can Be Another W

Let’s go back to our birthday party example. We have the hero who intends to tell her ex-husband she’s taking their son across country. Why can’t she just come up and tell him? Tear the band-aid off, metaphorically speaking?

Good question. If a dilemma could be solved by people simply talking, the world would be a much nicer place. But it wouldn’t be dramatically interesting. In our hero’s case, the obstacle – the conflict – could be that she’s done this before. Maybe she did it a few years ago, and faced legal repercussions because of it. Or maybe the obstacle is that her husband is an angry control freak, and she knows that when she tells him she’s leaving, he’s going to marshal all his considerable resources to stop her. Or maybe the obstacle is the son himself, who learns of his mother’s intentions and tells his father he doesn’t want to go before the hero can.

In all these cases, it’s the Character and Relationship that provide the conflict.

Conflict Should Be Resolved, Not Necessarily Overcome

The hero doesn’t need to physically conquer every obstacle. A story like that quickly becomes boring. Let’s think about Indiana Jones. He didn’t conquer that rolling boulder, he didn’t stop it, he didn’t divert it, he didn’t step out of its way. He ran. As fast and as far as he could until he got out of the cave and the boulder rolled away somewhere harmless. He didn’t overcome that boulder, he out-ran it.

The same principle applies to more metaphorical challenges. In our birthday party example, say the son tells his father what the hero – his mother – intends. So what’s our hero going to do about that? Stand and fight? Face off against her ex-husband who has far more cash and friends in high places? No, she’s going to thinks sideways. Maybe she’ll just up and leave anyway and take the boy with her. Or maybe she’ll pretend to go on a road trip, which is really her absconding. Which, of course, creates an entirely new obstacle for her to overcome.

However you do it, you need to resolve the conflicts you set up. This is the pay-off for the set-up. It doesn’t have to be smooth, or elegant, or even pleasant. But it has to work with the other Ws.

This is the fourth of a 6-part series on the W’s.

WHAT is happening? – Apparent Event
WHAT do you want? – Actual Event
WHERE are you? – Environment
WHO are you? – Character and Relationship
WHAT is the obstacle? – Conflict
WHAT just happened? – The Moment Before

Who Are You? – Character and Relationship

We’re over halfway through the process of constructing a scene and now we get to the characters. About time. When going through this exercise as an actor, you really only have to worry about your own character. When you’re a writer, you get to worry about all of them.

I could (and probably will) spend a lot of time on constructing a character and how best to do that, but for our purposes here, let’s assume you’ve done that work. You know your character, her flaws, her aspirations, her habits, her quirks, and what she does and does not know about herself. Now you have to take that character – or those characters – and place them in the scene you’ve created using the first three of the Ws.

Sticking with the birthday party example, let’s say the hero is at a birthday party for her son at her ex-husband’s house. The apparent event is the birthday party, the actual event is she intends to tell her ex-husband she’s moving across the country and taking the son with her, the environment is her ex-husband’s house, not a friendly environment for her.

Now what? You put the characters in that situation. Let’s say the hero is not good at conflict at all, but has resolved that this discussion has to happen this day, at this time, before she loses her nerve.

Can you feel the tension building? The situation is set to explode.

The Setting Changes Characters’ Relationships

This seems simple enough, but too often I see characters whose relationship seems equal on both sides all the time, and that just never, ever happens in real life. There’s always a power dynamic, and that balance shifts over time, or even over an afternoon, and especially when they have a change in venue.

Here’s a concrete example: you have characters who work at a restaurant, where one is the manager and one is a waiter. There’s a power dynamic there, boss/subordinate. No matter how friendly they are with one another, Jeff is the boss and Mike is the employee.

Now switch the location. Move Jeff and Mike to, say, a seedy pool hall. Mike comes here every Friday night after his shift, he knows the people, he’s one of them. Jeff is a newcomer, sticks out like a sore thumb, and – God forbid – is still wearing his restaurant manager’s tie. Who’s the boss in this situation?

Same characters, but their relationship, and thus their interaction, changes with a simple trip a couple of blocks away.

The Scene Can Change The Relationship

As a matter of fact, I’ll go so far as to say that every scene should alter the relationship between its main characters. That’s not to say it has to be a positive change, but if there’s no tension to resolve there’s no movement in the plot and there’s no growth in the characters.

Back to the birthday example. The hero is at her son’s birthday party at her ex-husband’s house, where she’s going to tell him that she’s moving away. As the hero works up her courage to have the conversation, her ex-husband surprises her by confessing that he’s not over her and asks if, maybe, they could give it one more try. With a few words the ex-husband has completely changed the tenor of the scene, and subverted the hero’s intentions.

Does the hero stick to her guns and tell him she’s leaving? Does she back down? How is she going to deal with this surprise?

You tell me, you’re the writer.

This is the third of a 6-part series on the W’s.

WHAT is happening? – Apparent Event
WHAT do you want? – Actual Event
WHERE are you? – Environment
WHO are you? – Character and Relationship
WHAT is the obstacle? – Conflict
WHAT just happened? – The Moment Before

Where Are You? – The Environment

The environment for the scene is the set dressing. This includes the stuff your characters can touch, like tables, chairs, rocket ships, guns, salad forks, powdered wigs, piles of severed limbs, etc. etc. etc.

The environment also includes the stuff your character can’t touch, like the wind, or darkness, or humidity. Or the seething emotion of a crowd about to turn into a mob. Or the gentle, welcoming smile of a grandmother.

In our birthday party example, your character probably is going to see a cake, some decorations, maybe some presents, and other people gathered around. But a birthday party in a bowling alley is going to have a very different environment than one on a billionaire’s yacht. Think about the fixtures and furniture you’d see in each place, aside from the cake and presents. Think about the people in attendance. It’s the same event (ostensibly) but the environments are completely different.

Story Drives The Environment

If your story is a hard-boiled noir, the hero probably won’t be seeing any androids or Jetsons-style moving sidewalks. By the same token, if your story is a high fantasy, your hero probably won’t be watching TV or driving a car.

Your story will have tropes, it’s inevitable. That doesn’t mean that tropes are necessarily bad. Used properly, they can give your reader something to latch onto, a familiar entry point. A lonely lakehouse, for example, would be right at home in a romance. It could also be the setting for a horror tale. The rest of the environment fills in the story. A romance would have sweet carvings of initials on the boathouse; a horror story would have a charnal-smelling basement where muffled screams echo at night.

The story you want to tell will determine your environment.

Environment Drives The Story

And yet… as you move along in your story, the environment has a lot to say about the direction your characters might take.

In our birthday party example, aside from the cake, candles, presents, and attendees, the event takes place at a Roaring-20s Gatsby mansion. So there are idle rich, and servants, and opulent appointments, and maybe a live jazz band. And maybe your hero hates her party and hates everyone there, but somehow finds a kindred spirit in the hip, dropout drum player from the band.

Well, now there’s a story. Rich socialite, grubby jazz musician, 1925, too much champagne, negligently unguarded revolvers… the environment has just moved the plot along.

Put The First Three Together

When you determine the apparent event for your characters, the actual event, and the environment, you’re well on your way to constructing a good, meaty scene.

Only three more Ws to go.

This is the second of a 6-part series on the W’s.

WHAT is happening? – Apparent Event
WHAT do you want? – Actual Event
WHERE are you? – Environment
WHO are you? – Character and Relationship
WHAT is the obstacle? – Conflict
WHAT just happened? – The Moment Before

What Do You Want? – Actual Event

The Actual Event is the meat of the scene. What the scene’s about. If the Apparent Event is what you see through a keyhole, the Actual Event is a plot point. A story element.

Okay… so what are those things? For the Apparent Event, we used the example of a birthday party. Everyone knows what a birthday party looks like: candles, cake, singing, presents, etc. etc. And for 99% of birthday parties, the Actual Event is also a birthday party.

But not your story. No, the Actual Event at your characters’ birthday party is something completely different. Maybe it’s when the detective realizes the murderer is his own wife. Or when the villain confesses everything, knowing that no one will believe his confessor. Or when the star-crossed lovers finally come together, at last.

The Actual Event Is The Story

Every scene must involve change. Either the plot moves along (the story changes), or the character grows (the character changes). Or both. A scene that does neither serves no purpose.

The Actual Event does not have to be positive. Most of your story should be setbacks for the characters; if every development is positive, you’ll have to twists to your tale.

If your main character has a birthday party, the fallout should be dramatic. He thinks he’s going to get cake and a few well-intentioned but ultimately useless gifts. Instead, he gets the news that his mother isn’t his real mother, she’s his grandmother, and the woman he thought was his older sister is really his mother, and has been all along.

That would be devastating news to anyone. Maybe positive in the (very) long term, but at that moment – at that party – the news is a definite blow to the character, and a setback. How’s he going to deal with this? What about his plans to get married? Is she really his cousin? How can he know for sure? And on, and on, and on.

The Scene Can Have More Than One Actual Event

If your scene has more than one character, there can be more than one actual event. This is tricky to pull off, and delicate balancing act, but it can be done. When it’s done right, it’s usually a smorgasbord of dramatic irony.

I would avoid doing this with any but main characters. To be honest, secondary and tertiary characters are there to serve the plot and the needs of the main characters. I wouldn’t bother giving them an actual event. Sometimes a bartender is just there to serve drinks. But if your hero and your villain find themselves at the same birthday party… someone’s gonna win and someone’s gonna lose. And it may not be who you expect.

This is the first of a 6-part series on the W’s. This is a foundational tool I learned as an actor that’s become my go-to as a writer. I use the Ws for every scene I write, every time.

WHAT is happening? – Apparent Event
WHAT do you want? – Actual Event
WHERE are you? – Environment
WHO are you? – Character and Relationship
WHAT is the obstacle? – Conflict
WHAT just happened? – The Moment Before

WHAT Is Happening? – Apparent Event

The Apparent Event is not the set dressing. That’s the Environment. The Apparent Event is what someone looking through a keyhole might see going on; what’s happening in a very broad and obvious sense.

For example: a birthday party. To Western eyes, at least, every birthday party follows a certain pattern. Just think of all the YouTube videos you’ve seen of a birthday party: if you turn off the sound, the scene could be set anywhere in the world, there’s nothing unique about candles on a birthday cake to tell you where in the world that party’s taking place.

Another example: bad news in a doctor’s office. Same thing, if you turn off the sound on any bad-news scene, you can still tell immediately what’s going on. Doctor comes in, hesitates, patients looks on with hope until she realizes that the doctor’s not going to have good news. Shake of the head, sincere look, tears.

A third example: being called into your boss’s office. The worker’s at his desk. The boss appears over his shoulder. Some brief words. The boss returns to her office. The worker hesitates – is it good news or bad? – then follows.

The Apparent Event Grounds The Action

When you set the apparent event – and all scenes must have an apparent event – you immediately have a handle on what’s taking place. You can then move your characters around inside that event as you see fit.

If the scene’s at a birthday party, for instance, you know the beats of that process. Your character will (probably) know the beats of that process too. They’ll react to what’s going on according to the other Ws – see the list above – and to their own nature. Do they hate birthday parties? Love them? Resent the people attending?

You Can Subvert The Apparent Event

What does this mean? Sticking with the birthday party example, suppose you follow the regular beats of a birthday party, but we find out the birthday ‘cake’ is a vegetable concoction instead of devil’s food chocolate. And suppose your main character only discovers the old switcheroo when she’s handed a piece of the broccoli-beet cake.

In that example, your apparent event has changed from ‘birthday party’ to ‘terrible birthday party the main character never expected.’ We’re still not into the actual event, or even the environment (aside from the specific about the cake), we’ve just subverted the audience’s expectation of what the event really is. This is perfectly acceptable. Just not every time.

How quickly should you move your story along? That depends, what kind of story are you telling?

I think the biggest structural mistakes I see in writers’ work is the wrong pace for the material. You need to pick your pace as carefully as you pick your scenes and your characters.

A Big Story Needs A Fast Pace

Let’s say that, for some reason, you’ve decided to write the next ‘War and Peace.’ That’s a huge story, and, full disclosure, takes its time like a stoned sloth staring at wallpaper. But it’s not the 19th Century and you’re not Leo Tolstoy, your writing needs to move faster than his did.

A big story is going to have a lot of characters, and a lot of plot points, and a lot of incidental characterization and detail. You absolutely cannot take your time with that kind of story. You have to hammer it out, rapid-fire. Get it done.

Imagine you’re explaining your story in detail to an interested party. Imagine also that you can see their eyes start to droop. You’re losing them. Every part of your story that you’d gloss over for the purpose of keeping them interested you can probably lose from your first draft. If it’s not vital to the ‘and then…’ part of storytelling, dump it.

A Smaller Story Can Go Slower

Notice I didn’t say ‘less dramatic’ or ‘less important.’ Instead of ‘War and Peace’ you’re going to write the story of a man’s slow failing and transformation as his marriage dissolves after the death of his only child.

That’s some serious, serious storytelling. Heart-wrenching drama that will probably make your reader cry. But it’s not a ‘big’ story. You can and should take your time with this kind of story, because the meat is in the characters’ internal voices, and in their sad, inevitable interactions with one another. There’s no war or peace with this kid of story, no tales of sacrifice and heroism, just the very real tale of one man’s misery. Take your time.

Know What Kind Of Story You’re Telling

I’ve seen people with big, big, stories spend far too much time on their characters’ internal lives, while outside the world is ending. Maybe you can pull that kind of juxtaposition off, but you probably can’t. Big stories mean big choices, and big choices mean broad strokes at the keyboard.

Alternatively, I’ve seen authors try to tell small stories with smash-cut urgency, which no one can sustain. It’s exhausting to read, and those stories tend to reach several conclusions as the author pads the word count to reach novel length.

Be honest with yourself as you plan your story. Is it big or is it small? Then pace accordingly.

Say what? Ignore Joseph Cambell? Blasphemy!
But… if you want to dispense with formula, if you want to tell your own story your own way, you’re going to have to shun the crowd and show Mr. Campbell the door.

Campbell Was An Academic, Not A Novelist

Of course saying that Campbell was an academic is soft-pedaling the truth, he was a highly-accomplished, highly-regarded academic, a teacher who later in life found his ideas embraced by Hollywood.

Did you know that Campbell wrote fiction? He did, early on in his career, but that’s not what he’s known for. He’s known for his studies in comparative mythology and the hero’s journey, and it’s his scholarly work that’s been embraced. And misued. His ‘Hero With A Thousand Faces’ book – published in 1949, let’s remember – forms the foundation for almost every big film coming out of Hollywood today.

If Campbell’s ideas had stayed academic, I wouldn’t have a problem with him.

Campbell’s Ideas Have Become Dogma

Joseph Campbell showed us one way to tell one kind of story, God bless him, but Hollywood turned that into the only way to tell every kind of story. And that’s what’s wrong with Hollywood story telling today.

The Hero’s Journey works fine for Star Wars – and by that I mean the first movie, Star Wars, not the rest of them – but with that movie’s overwhelming success, Hollywood glommed onto the formula as the surefire way to box office gold.

The fact that most Hollywood movies actually lose money is lost on those who insist that The Hero’s Journey is the One True Path. If you step back and take an objective look, using Campbell’s myth outline to tell a story about revenge, or about a love affair, or about anything other than a myth is a straight path to Hollywood failure.

Which doesn’t keep people from trying over and over again to apply a formula to the kind of success that defies categorization. As they say, there is a lot of stupid money in Hollywood.

Mediocrities Write To Formula

Notice I didn’t say ‘unsuccessful mediocrities.’ There are some very, very successful folks – monetarily speaking – churning out very, very formulaic, very, very stupid stuff. You could become a one-percenter doing very, very bad work. But you probably won’t.

Your story needs to spark wonder in you. It needs to make you eager to tell it to other people. It needs to get you excited. Writing to a formula won’t do that at all. Especially if the formula originates with bean-counters trying to factory-produce financial success. If you get to page 50 in your manuscript and you turn to a checklist wondering what you need to include and which story beat comes after that, you’ve lost. You’re never going to sell what you’re working on because you don’t believe in it. You’ve become an assembly-line worker instead of a writer.

Here’s the one storytelling formula you absolutely must know, embrace, and practice: Beginning – Middle – End. Everything else is optional.

This post isn’t so much about the content of your writing, or about technique, it’s about your environment. Believe it or not, your environment can make a world of difference to your creative output. Pay attention to it.

Whatever Space You Have, Make It Your Own

I’m lucky, I have a house with a spare bedroom that I’ve turned into my office. I have a desk, and a desk lamp, a nifty computer, a crazy-expensive office chair, and walls painted a soothing maroon. This is where I write.

But I didn’t always have this. I have written on planes, on trains, in ratty efficiency apartments, in hotels, even outside on a porch. The one thing all these environment have in common is that I took a little bit of time to make them my own.

Wherever you write, even if it’s temporary (or especially if it’s temporary), take a few minutes to rearrange things. Move a chair around, clear off the coffee table, vacuum the carpet, close the blinds, place your laptop just-so… whatever it takes to announce to yourself that this is your environment and this is where you write.

When I had roommates, I didn’t have any permanent writing space. So every time I needed to write, I set up my space. This also let them know that I meant business. It’s a psychological crutch for you, too, kind of like putting on your golf shoes before you head for the links. ( I imagine, I don’t golf, but you get the idea ).

Your Chair Makes A Tremendous Difference

I know, it sounds like grandpa advice, but it’s true. Don’t shortchange yourself on a chair.

If you have a permanent writing space, get yourself the best chair you can afford. You’re going to spend a huge amount of time at your desk, in front of your computer, and you need to take care of your back and shoulders. You don’t want to cripple yourself for your art. And, if you think of the money you spend vs. the amount of time your butt’s in that seat, even the most expensive chair will be very cheap on a per-minute basis.

If you don’t have a permanent space, creating a comfortable chair is part of claiming your space. Believe it or not, a beanbag is often a decent solution. A kitchen chair is usually not. Yes, if you have to set up in the dining room you have to deal with what you get. But if that’s your situation, please work to make the chair better for your back. Kitchen chairs and dining room chairs might be sturdy, but they’re not designed for you to sit in them for any period of time longer than a meal.

Remember, if you do it right, you’ll be writing for the rest of your life. Take care of your body like you take care of your mind.

Let There Be Light!

I cannot stress this enough. Turn on the lights. Please. You’re a human being, not a troll under a bridge, darkness is not your friend.

I’ve seen people working in darkness, with the only light coming from their computer. This is SOOOOOOOO bad for your eyes. Don’t do it. Whatever your environment, turn on the lights. If you have to, bring in a light from somewhere else and plug it in.

Don’t Snack ( At The Desk )

Sacreliege! Snacking while writing is how we know how far we’ve gotten. Half of a pound bag of M&Ms means we’re almost done with a chapter, right?

If you have snacks – or, God forbid, meals – at your writing desk, you’re blending two things. It’ll be very easy to get into the habit of eating ALL THE TIME while you’re writing. If you’re lucky, you’ll be writing a lot, which means you’ll be eating a lot. A LOT. Which means you’ll get fatty, fat fat. And at your age that’s not charming, it’s unhealthy.

I do snack. Probably too much. But I do it in front of the TV like regular folks. No food allowed in my office, only drinks. When I’m working it’s all business. Pleasure, like eating, is for other parts of the house.