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About the Writer:

Hannah Six is a freelance writer, creative writing teacher, who also works (to pay the rent!) as a writer/editor at a nonprofit association in Washington, D.C. She has been published in a variety of newspapers and magazines, has contributed to several books on writing and the writing life, and is certified in the Amherst Writers and Artists Institute method of leading writing workshops. Hannah lives in Georgetown with her husband and two (mildly insane) cats.

Hannah also teaches workshops at the Coffeehouse.
Pradas and Prose
Opening Pandora's Box

Are You Ready to Write?
Hannah Six

The hardest part of writing is getting started. It’s all too easy to spend hours procrastinating, tending to every little task you normally leave untended (I must wash the dishes, this minute!), or surfing the Web in the name of research. At the same time, if you aren’t mentally prepared, if you lack the tools you know help you work best, and if you don’t honor the creative part of yourself (Yes, we all have a creative side!), then your writing may come hard and sound stilted and stiff.

Preparing to write is not a complicated process, but it is a process that requires you to understand yourself and the things that make you feel comfortable and safe. It is also essential to contemplate the rituals that help send a message to your brain saying, “It’s time to write.”

Rituals can be little things like using that special red and gold pen you picked up in a Paris hotel or the way you format your page when you open a new Word document—or they may be more complex, almost ceremonial activities. Consider the popular novelist Isabel Allende, author of many books, including The Stories of Eva Luna and House of the Spirits: Reportedly, Allende always commences writing a new novel on New Year’s Day, and always begins by brewing a cup of mango tea.

While some people need to have complete peace and quiet to compose their thoughts, others prefer music, or even background noise, such as people chatting at a nearby table at a coffee shop or the sounds of traffic. Take these preferences seriously. It is important, especially when working on a complex or intense piece, that you are able to concentrate.

If you work in an office, or live alone, don’t beat yourself up if you are having trouble focusing when it’s too quiet. If you need some noise, plug in your headphones or turn on your stereo and play some music. If you need peace and quiet, and work in a bustling, high-traffic area (like your kitchen or a busy diner), try scheduling your writing time for the earliest or latest hours of the day, when it tends to be quieter.

Another idea is to “borrow” a quiet space in which you are able to concentrate. Perhaps a friend has a spare room you could use now and then, or maybe there’s a quiet park bench where you can spend lunch hours working on your masterpiece… Keep your eyes (and your mind) open for possibilities—they’re all around you.

Now that you have in mind the things that make you want to write, or at least make it less painful, take a moment to consider the tools you need. Some people write on computers from outline to final draft. Others prefer to use pen and paper, or a combination of both. If you like to use Steno pads instead of legal-size paper, or if you prefer blue (or green, or purple) ink to black, be sure to have these items on-hand. Pick up some highlighters or fancy paperclips if they make you happy. The trick is to assure your “writing self” that you are taking it seriously.

Now for a word about one of my favorite topics: Books. Just like the requisite pile of books I keep on my nightstand, I also have several books that serve as resources and providers of comfort and advice when I am delving into a writing project. Following are some of my “old stand-bys”:

Roget’s Thesaurus (or the thesaurus of your choice)
A good dictionary (I like The American Heritage Dictionary or Webster’s      wordCollegiate Dictionary)
Other dictionaries and/or encyclopedias, if needed
On Writing Well, 25th Anniversary: The classic guide to writing nonfiction, by wordWilliam K. Zinsser
The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (for answers to wordquestions about commas, colons, and quotations)

For inspiration, I usually keep both Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Writing Alone and With Others, by Pat Schneider, nearby, along with whatever book has recently struck my fancy. Depending on your writing specialty, you may also need other style guides, reference books, journals and magazines, and so on. Take a few minutes to browse the writing section at a bookstore—no doubt you will find a few favorites of your own.

Taking time to consider and fulfill your needs as a writer is one step in the direction of building increased confidence and creativity in your writing (even when it’s work related). So pop a favorite CD in the player; stock up on the pens, pencils, and other goodies that make writing easier—and more fun—for you; schedule ample time to daydream, to brainstorm story ideas, and to think through your projects and plan how you’re going to complete them; and supply yourself with plenty of resources to inspire and motivate you, as well as to help you compose and edit your work.

And, if all else fails, take a tip from a famous novelist: Try a cup of mango tea.

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