Writing Habits

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When my friend was pregnant with her first baby, she asked me if I’d used the Ferber method to get my daughter to learn to put herself to sleep on her own.

I tried my best not to laugh, mainly because I had no clue who Ferber was. Granted, my daughter learned to sleep in a NICU, and then a PICU surrounded by blinking, blaring machines and 3am blood pressure checks. She is also her father’s daughter, since he can also sleep through all those alarms and more, so that doesn’t hurt. And now that she’s five, she can pretty much fall asleep anywhere when it’s time for bed. But my friend insisted, how do you teach a baby to sleep on his own instead of having to be rocked to sleep?

Well, common sense tells me that you don’t rock the baby to sleep every night. That’s just asking for trouble. I told her to put the kid down in his own crib and let him fall asleep there, all on his own, from day one, without being in someone’s arms. Play music. Don’t tiptoe. Because if you train a baby to sleep only under the most ideal and quiet circumstances, quite frankly, you’ve screwed yourself.

I realized that I’ve come to think of my writing habits as similar to those I’d use (and did use) in learning to put a baby to sleep. They’re not many, and they’re certainly not rules, by any means. But they’re what work for me, and I’m always willing to share.

1. Learn to write in less-than-ideal circumstances
We all make jokes about waiting for the muse to come grace us with his or her presence, or about the sun/moon alignment or the fact that the house is finally quiet enough for a few hours of uninterrupted writing time. And those moments are to be treasured for sure, but not counted on.

2. Learn to write with distractions
Write with the TV both on and off. Same with music. Or kids laughing. Or yelling. Or trapped in the car on a long trip or on the plane or waiting for a doctor’s appointment. My friends make fun of me that I carry pen and paper with me everywhere, even when I go out to dinner with them. They even ask, will you start to write if we get boring? I tell them, maybe.

3. Learn to write in different environments.
Some writers talk about a concept called Anchoring, in which you do all your writing (or really, any kind of work) in one specific place, and make that place all about writing. It’s all about conditioning a response, so the second you enter that space, your mind clicks into gear and isn’t distracted by the internet or the TV or anything else that can pull our focus. It’s a very interesting concept, and like most out there, does not work for me all the time. I want to be, need to be able to produce in a variety of places. And the thing is, when I’m writing, I am alone, in my own space, with my characters and the story and everything else melts away – and I love being able to have that escape anywhere, anytime.

Still, there’s a lot to be said for an author having a room of his or her own – the space, the quiet, the time to invent and perfect and daydream is the epitome of what most of the writers I know would call perfection.

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