My friend asks:

Does it take you some time each day to immerse yourself in your writing?  If so, any tricks to ease into the creative headspace?

Writing has stages: a first draft is dream-like, immersive, while subsequent drafts are part cerebral/part immersive and often involve gnashing teeth, pulling hair, and moments of despair interspersed with joy.

Whatever the stage, you need to show up—daily.

For the early, intense and immersive writing stage, some recommend not speaking, talking or reading anything on waking, and to begin writing while still half-asleep. Others use a meditation practice to reach that imaginative space. Some write to specific music or look at an image chosen for a project. Many (Jane Smiley, for one) swear by a hot shower, or long walks. If there are distractions, I will use ear plugs as well as headphones.

Because the imaginative space can be so illusive, writers often try out different techniques. It’s hardest when you are new to writing, but it can be hard even for experienced writers, especially at the beginning of a new project. Over time, it gets easier to shut the world out, to concentrate, to lose yourself in a fictional world.

A writer needs to occupy an imaginative space for many months, perhaps even years. Touching base with it daily, even if only for a half-hour, is key. In my experience, one day away equals at least two days lost in trying to get back into that fictional world.

Some writers are night-time writers but most work in the early hours. If you begin first thing in the morning, you will be unconsciously thinking of your story all day.

The more you give yourself to your work, the more immersed you will become, and ideas will come to you in dreams or at unexpected moments. Many a writer has holed up in a bathroom at a party to note down thoughts.

Always have a notepad with you as well as one by your bed, so that you can write down the ideas that come to you on the fly. (A friend’s daughter calls these fly-by ideas “art attacks,” and dives for the closest paper and pencil.) Some writers use a dictation device that is always with them.

The important thing is to respect these thoughts. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you will remember them.

Proust‘s notebook:

New Yorker cover, NY Proust's notebook

At a critical point in the writing process—often nearing completion—a writer will seek some form of retreat, move into an isolated space in order to be able to concentrate fully. Over the years, I’ve checked into motels, B&Bs, silent monasteries, a snowed-in cabin.

The next question in “A writer’s routine” series: How do you conquer writer’s block?  What do you do when you are looking for inspiration for your work?

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Essential reading: Chapter 5, “Harnessing the Unconscious,” in Dorothea Brand‘s wonderful book Becoming a Writer

These two books demonstrate how individual the writing process can be:

How I Write: the Secret Lives of Authors, edited by Dan Crowe.

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.

Another post in “A writer’s routine” series: Evolving what works.

{The opening image at top is from “A most delicate art” on BibliOdyessy.}