I suppose I have to start somewhere. A how-to is as simple a beginning as any. Writers have different habits, different styles, different superstitions. Like the English languages, there are always exceptions to my rules. I can’t say that I’m quirky or neurotic. I don’t chew on a spaghetti noodle or keep a chain of lucky charms next to my computer. I just have a few creature comforts, aids, and stimulants that keep me focused when I’m writing.
Food and drink: It’s hard to type when you have Cheeto cheese on your fingers, so I rarely eat when I’m writing. I’ll sometimes eat before, and I’ll sometimes reward myself after. I know that after writing my first NaNoWriMo novel that I had half a pint of Blue Bell Rocky Road. I hate nuts, but the marshmallows are always worth it.
I like having a flavored drink. For me, that’s my main sensory stimulus to get the juices flowing. I prefer sodas like Diet A&W Cream Soda or Diet Big Red Vanilla Float or Cherry Coke Zero. Those aren’t product placements, just very specific tastes. I will also take multiflavored juices. Or water. Water works fine, too. But flavor seems to keep me awake and focused. I do not drink for the caffeine, even though my sodas have some. If they came out with a caffeine-free soda in each of my favorites, I would gladly start buying them.
Ambiance: I write best at night with the lights dim or off. My computer provides plenty of light on its own, and without any other distractions, I don’t really have anywhere else to look but the screen. It’s like my world focuses on the words forming on the page. My eyes unfocus, and I just let my fingers type as fast as they can follow my brain. Some of my most productive times are between 10pm and 3am. This wreaks havoc on my sleeping and working schedule. I try to write during the day, but usually all I have to show for it is a numb butt and a cursor blinking on a blank page. It’s less discouraging to just start at 10pm.
Music: I love to create playlists, but I don’t always use them. When I do, the mood music is usually toned down or turned down. When I don’t, I use the air conditioner as white noise. Sometimes I even turn on a movie and let it play in the background. When words are particularly stubborn, I’ll turn the movie and the music off for a moment while I work through the momentary block.
Setting: I have a few places where I feel best. They don’t have anything in common, so I don’t know exactly what draws me to each of these places. When I was in college, there was my desk in the dorm room. But then there was also the couch at home where I curled up and the Chipotle at the Quarry. In the first year of NaNoWriMo, I did weekly write-ins at the Chipotle for two to three hours each time, and I just got used to being productive there. It’s strange – they have the most uncomfortable chairs ever.
Now I mostly write either on my desk in my room or on the kitchen island bar. The latter can be a bit harder, since it’s right in front of the television and right next to the fridge.
Genre: I’m burnt out on essays. At this point, I’m sleepwalking my way through them, and they only interest me if I can integrate more than one creative media. For instance, some of my favorite essays involved television shows, movies, photographs, and paintings as well as literature and research. I am particularly fond of my essay on constructing Willow’s sexuality in Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as the three-part gender and sexuality analysis of Silence of the Lambs.
As for fiction, I prefer sexual or queer themes, horror, and/or the supernatural. I like to ground even the most arcane subject deeply into reality, which is why my Fiction Writing professor allowed me to submit one of my queer horror short stories for workshop. I also enjoy exploring spiritual elements in relation to sex, gender, and the supernatural. I’ve dabbled in literary fiction, although my favorite short story is one that turns the horror genre on its head in order to fit within literary fiction. I don’t care what anyone says – literary fiction is a genre. There seem to be as many guidelines for it as for other genres.
Length: Until recently, I wrote novels and had trouble writing short stories. Since I have not had much time to just focus on a novel since November (or when I did have time, my attention span was short), I’ve just written short stories for specific anthologies and for my Advanced Fiction Writing class (or both). My stories range from 2K-113K words.
Format: This is specific and probably one of the only real quirks that I have, and for a quirk, I think it’s pretty mild. I hate Times New Roman or Ariel size 12 font, double-spaced. Ironically, this is the accepted format for just about everything, give or take a guideline. I think it looks immature, and it makes it difficult for me to read it as it was meant to be read. When you open a book, do you see double spacing? No, you see size 11-12 Times New Roman or a similar font in 1.5 or single spacing. Double spacing is good for editing, but it’s a bitch to read. I learned to read early and well, and I don’t read word by word. I read in blocks of sentences. So when those blocks are broken up by huge spaces between the lines, I get frustrated because I have to read the hard way. When I type stories, I use size 10 Times New Roman or size 12 Perpetua (or similar fonts), single-spaced. Sometimes I use paragraph tabs, other times I use block paragraphs separated by a space. When I submit stories, I just convert them into the preferred formatting. I think it’s a crime to print out my double-spaced stories because they read differently, but I don’t make the rules.
Other: I write consecutively, from beginning to end. When I write an essay, this is what blocks me more than anything: the introduction sets up the entire body of the essay, and if I have trouble writing the introduction, I can’t go on. This means that when I have the introduction completed, the body flows pretty freely. It is much easier to write stories this way.
I also make my way through the first draft just letting everything come out. I learned this from NaNoWriMo, and for me, the method is perfect. Some things that I add as a whim ends up being crucial to the plot. I just cut anything that I don’t like or that is repetitive in the first edit. For short stories, I prefer finishing them in one night, but that is often impossible, and I can tell where the different nights are by the repetition. For novels, I like to finish a section before signing off. Endings are always difficult.