Learning the writing craft is super important for everyone, especially the beginning novelist. Learning more about plot, characterization, dialogue, pacing, story structure, point of view, and on and on is an unending quest, a bottomless ocean.
But, there is something that is equally important, maybe more so. That’s practicing the writing craft. Just like a baseball pitcher, a football cornerback, or an orchestra violinist, an aspiring novelist has to practice.
Therefore, I’m introducing Sanity Snippets. I hope it’s an exercise you perform every day. My hope is you will not repeat my mistake: spending years reading about the craft of writing before I started putting pencil to paper (fingers to keyboard).
So, what is Sanity Snippets? In short, if you want to keep your sanity, you need to write something every day, and it doesn’t have to be much. Sanity is intentionally an overstatement but heck, the word works well in this context. For me, my day is not the same, not as good, if I do no writing.
I’m a creature of habit for my daily writing routine. It’s the first thing I do (after grabbing a large cup of coffee). Some days, I write only a paragraph or two. Other days, much more. The surprising thing I’ve learned is how I feel about myself, and my day is equally positive no matter how many words I’ve written. Yes, I know it’s a mind game of sorts. But, it works. A writer has to write. The world is out of balance when I am not writing. I believe it will be the same once you fully commit to this adventure.
However, what I’m suggesting you as a beginning writer do is start small, tiny. I know we’ve been talking about big things, story structure, the hook (my next post, due out before Monday). All I’m asking you to do is write something, even if it’s one sentence.
And, that brings me to snippet. It’s not a tough word. Snippet is simply “a very small piece.” A piece of what? It doesn’t matter. It could be anything, or nothing but a word or two or twelve. It could be, or become, a part of a larger work, say your first novel, but it doesn’t have to. The goal of Sanity Snippets is to get you writing. Here’s a bonus. You don’t have to write every day. Of course I know you don’t have to do anything I suggest. Think about/play like I’m your writing coach. If you played a sport at any level, you know about coaching. Your coach asked you to do certain things.
Can I share a story? When I was in high school, I played football. There were days I hated Coach Dennis Hicks. He worked us hard, no matter the weather, or anything else. What I didn’t realize at the time was he loved us so much he taught us life skills. I still remember two posters he had in the field house. One was “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” The other was, “if it is to be, it is up to me.” These words have stuck with me for over fifty years. I believe Coach Hicks is why I am such a determined person. I would give anything to spend an afternoon with the greatest mentor I ever had. Unfortunately, he died several years ago.
Most likely you wouldn’t be reading my blog if you weren’t interested in writing. The best advice I will ever give you is to develop the writing habit and to just write. Every day is preferable, but it’s okay to start with two, three, or four days per week. You have the time, so just do it.
I plan on posting a new Sanity Snippet at least once or twice per week. You can respond if you choose or create your own scenario. It will not be complicated. The post might be a writing prompt. It might be a question. It might be a question about a writing prompt. Whatever form it takes, write something. I’ll leave it up to you how you do it—pencil on paper, fingers on keyboard, smoke signals. You get the idea.
One thing I almost forgot. We are fiction writers. So let your imagination run free. Just change the names to protect the innocent, and the guilty.
Let me close with an example.
Sanity Snippet #_.
You have lunch with Ted, your boss. He says something you do not agree with but for fear of jeopardizing your position; you give a slight nod and a weak smile.
What are you, not you you, but you as the protagonist (the main character in the story) really thinking?
Tip: Respond any way you want. You don’t have to address the question. You could describe the lunch, the atmosphere, the menu, the decor, what you ate, anything. Or, you could write about the guy sitting two tables over that you know you know. No matter what, you earn an A+ for writing anything. “Ted’s tie was puke green. That killed my appetite.” You just earned an A+. Get it?
Here’s another hypothetical response:
After Ted and I exited the restaurant, his cell rang, and he mouthed to me, “I’ll catch you later.”
I walked to my car and sat for what seemed five minutes. How could any human being be in love with spiders, and eat them every morning for breakfast?
Back to me.
That was silly wasn’t it. But, words are free so use them any way you want. Again, the aim is to write. You’ll never become a better writer unless you write, no matter how much writing craft you learn.
Here’s a final tip. You don’t have to limit a particular Sanity Snippet to one session. You might choose to pursue the same Snippet several days in a row. For example, on day two, you might do some spying on old Ted. Capture this: a snippet can create a seed; a seed can sprout into an idea; an idea can become a novel.
In closing (I promise), I want to share a few photos of my new writing room I’ve been working on (currently unnamed). It’s simple, in the barn outback, and has no internet by design, thanks to John Grisham (as in the author of legal thriller fame) on YouTube a few weeks ago. I suspect you will learn that distractions have to be dealt with if you want to produce any writing.