1. Write by someone’s else’s schedule
  2. Obey every rule you hear or read about how to write
  3. Fix up a beautiful space for writing
  4. Write what you know
  5. Join a writing group and stick with it

Wait – aren’t those all good ideas? Yes, each one is valid. They’re all foundation blocks of my writing skills. I believe it’s true to repeat what has given you success. However, creativity is fluid and changing. If I’m a strict follower of my habits for months or years, soon there may be little or no thinking required. Not so bad sometimes, but no sparks of “What if?” Or “How about?” It’s like an acquaintance who wears the same hairdo in spite of life’s changes–loss of skin elasticity, skin tone fading, overall weight redistribution and the unstoppable chipmunk cheeks. Change your hair, girl.

My neighbor has a nocturnal desert watercolor that she painted; it was lovely. But the frame wasn’t quite right. She kept the matting but got a new frame. A new soft brown wood frame with a lighter inlaid wood created a huge change. The stars in that desert sky sparkle. Perhaps you can reframe some writing habits.

  1. Reframe “Write By Someone’s Else’s Schedule

If I write every day, at a certain time, sooner or later I’ll resent it. That’s me. I’ll find a way to avoid and perhaps not write at all. Sure, it’s good to be disciplined and have some structure but it’s got to be my choice. I do write every Tuesday, but I also write after I’ve walked around with an idea–filtering, musing over it while I Windex, wash the car, or do yoga. I might write as soon as I wake up, or watching TV, or late at night.

2. Reframe “Obey every rule you hear or read about how to write”

I’m a big believer in biblio-therapy. (Just took a break to eyeball the number of how-to books in our house. More than two hundred if my eyeballs are up to par.) Reading about writing, I’ve read incredible phrases that are posited as rules, a should, or an ought to. Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write has some vague “rules” but more than that she focused on the art of writing.

Her book made me recall what I’ve said when peoples ask, “Is your twin is a writer too?”

“She can write very well. Her art is with cloth, ribbons, thread and needle; she is a fabric artist. My medium is words. I’m an artist in writing.”

If I want to write with abandon and authenticity, I can’t always obey the “Writing Police.” Break some rules. That’s freedom and art.

3. Reframe “Fix up a beautiful space for writing”

A couple of weeks ago I realized I wasn’t doing any writing for myself. In fact I was avoiding going to my office to write. I have a beautiful office. A view of the Catalina Mountains. A spacious oak desk with a comfortable ergonomic chair so my hands are poised at the right level over my laptop. So what’s with the avoidance? I needed a change. Getting away was a sensory experience. The view from my friends’ balcony in Prescott Arizona was awe-inspiring. A vast sky with thunderclouds rumbling in the afternoon. Dick revitalized my taste buds with tortilla-wrapped eggs, bacon, green onions and a sprinkling of cheese. The Phippen Museum of Western Art had a collection entitled “By the Light of the Moon.” The title alone led to writing a rough draft that night of dancing by the light of the moon.

Visiting our friends in Goodyear and listening to Jack deliver his humorous take on just about everything had me smiling the whole time. The lingering East Coast accents of my childhood friends reactivated mine and opened up memory banks I hadn’t visited in years. There’s a high school story waiting to be told.

I can’t get away every weekend, but I can get up every day and take a walk, for an hour, or thirty minutes, or ten. I still carry my Snippets notebook and do a sensory quick write. What do I see, hear, smell, feel- both physically and emotionally?

4. Reframe “Write what you know”

When I first began writing, I was a teacher, and good at it, so I wrote a lot of essays about teaching, kids, and children’s literature. With my masters degree and next career as a counselor and public speaker, I added relationship, marriage, and family dynamics stories and essays to my portfolio–even turned some into an entire book.

But it’s a big world out there. You can move away from your comfort zone genre. Read a different genre, or go to a lecture or spend days away at a conference.

My step out of my writing comfort zone has been through improvisation and oral storytelling. As a writer I can zoom through the first draft; errors get fixed after the initial unloading. Then comes the luxury of revising, polishing, choosing the better word, eliminating the repeats. Improv class was not a step out of my comfort zone. It’s been a leap! I like to present a polished, practiced talk in a confident stance. In Improv I need to trust myself, my scene partner, develop intuition … and leap right then.

Attempting to go to a level ten with an emotion in improv showed me how my written characters are a five at best. Occasionally I’ve hit a ten in written stories–those are the ones folks have liked the most. Other writers have stepped out of their comfort zone with dancing, juggling, high wire walking, hiking, mountain biking, and skydiving. Okay, maybe a little extreme but take a step, even if it’s a baby step.

5. Reframe “Join a writing group and stick with it”

When I got serious about my writing, I heeded my father’s advice. “If you want to do something, hang out with people who are doing it successfully.” I joined the International Women’s Writing Guild, and a local writing group. Being with poets, sci-fi writers, historians, novelists, and memoirists every week taught me about genres. It also gave me a reality check on the commonality of writers’ fears and anxieties, as well as risks and successes. That was where I adopted the quote “Take your work seriously, but never yourself” – variously attributed to Margot Fonteyn and Clint Eastwood (now that’s interesting).

Just as I’ve outgrown clothes or things go out of style (remember the hair), same holds true with groups. Your needs may change. If you keep going to your writing group just for social reasons, quit.  Keep them as friends, but find a new group for writing. Check Meet Up, Facebook, community bulletin boards, libraries, bookstores.

A little bit of #1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 each day and I’m ready to BIC (Butt in chair) and write with zest, humor, audacity. How about you?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.