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Writing Advice from the First Grade

Posted September 17, 2010

I went to the parent-teacher meeting last night for my kid's first grade class and obsessed on the rules for their Writing Workshop. The rules are simple, but they apply to writers new and old, scared and bold:

1. Find the best place for you to work.

Whether it's a Clean Well Lighted Place or a Room of Your Own this is crucial. Get away from the TV, the radio, the X-box, the kids, the spouse, the job. A chair where you're comfortable. But don't overdo it; if you create a place so comfortable it cannot be replicated you're only looking for writer's block.

2. Stay in the place you have chosen to write.

You might not think you're as squirmy as a seven-year-old, but look at what's open in your laptop right now. Work spreadsheets? Email? How many open web browser tabs do you have open? I've got 12 but this isn't my serious writing time. Consider each program you have open as a friend at the coffeeshop who wants to talk to you. If you don't want to be surrounded by all your friends maybe you don't crave the solace necessary to write. Close the web browser, silence the cell phone, turn off wireless, close your email.

We pretend we can multitask while we write. We cannot. You might as well attempt to multitask while going on a long distance run.

3. Write until the bell goes off.

If you're new at the game you should consider writing for short periods of time. Maybe it's fifteen minutes in which you do nothing but work on a piece. Set an alarm. If that works, make it a half hour of solid writing. Then an hour, then two. Even if one of those two hours is nothing more than drivel, you'll be surprised by how the ideas flow and you connect to the writing in a deeper way.

When I started training for this fall's marathon I ran six miles and it hurt. Gradually I brought the distance up. My most recent was 20 miles, without stopping, without needing external validation and the instant gratitude of social networking. Think of your long writing periods as training.



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