Welcome to the first installment of “Be Well, Write Well,” a column about writing wellness! I’m Leanne Sowul, writer, reader and educator. In this series, we’ll explore our potential for living healthy, happy lives that balance writing passion with overall wellness. Are you ready to dive in with me? Let’s grow and learn together!
Writers of fiction often begin their writing process with a character study. Generally, this involves the author asking the character questions about him or herself, interview-style. It’s a great way to figure out the backgrounds and motivations of the key players in the story.
But have you ever considered doing a character study… on yourself?
One of the biggest challenges we face as writers is our very human inability to analyze and evaluate our own work and our role as the work’s author. Checking in with ourselves through character-study type questions can help us with that process. (Even better, a journal in which you release writing frustrations, trials and triumphs is a sanity-saving companion.) I’d like to share with you some questions I ask myself at the beginning, middle and end of a writing project, and how I often find myself answering. Feel free to copy the prompts for future reference as you read along!
At The Beginning: Preparation
Do I have enough time and energy to commit to this project right now?
I’m an eternal optimist about time management: I always think I’ll have enough time if I just schedule things better and increase my overall efficiency. To a certain extent, my optimism does pay off; if something is really important to me, I’ll find the time. But I often overestimate how much energy I have. Energy is sometimes even more important than time. If you’re taking on another big project, either for work or home, or if you’re going through a low period health-wise, it might not be the right time to start a new writing project.
How do I know when I’m ready to start?
There’s never a sure answer to this question, but often just asking yourself if you’re ready can help you understand if you really do need more preparation time, or if you’re just stalling out of nervousness. Trust your gut instincts on this one!
Will this project help me achieve my ultimate goal as a writer? How does this project serve my writing identity?
In a world where your brand is as important as your name, it’s vital to consider what you want to be known for and whether each project will help you get there. The fiction-writing identity I aspire to is “writing historical fiction from multiple perspectives, and giving my readers a fresh take on a current issue through the lens of history.” Before seizing on a new idea, I always ask myself if it will help me build toward that vision.
In The Middle: Re-Evaluating And Taking Renewed Action
Am I pleased with the path this is taking, or do I need to correct my course?
At some point in each of my projects, I’ve found myself taking a “forced break.” The middle of any piece is the stickiest point. We generally know our beginning and our end, but the bridge between is less solidly built. I often have to stop and re-read to make sure I’m on the right track. I ask myself this question over the course of several days, so that I can be sure of how to proceed.
What do I do when the writing gets hard?
We all love the days when we open our laptops and our fingers start flying. But it’s the ones when we slog our way through our word count, slamming our heads on our desks, which make or break us as writers. It’s okay to be frustrated at lack of progress, but don’t let it keep you from continuing. Get some perspective; recognize that you’ve had great writing days in the past, and you’ll have them again. Figure out what works best for you: pushing through, or taking a break. I try to build in some extra “mental writing time” by taking a walk or doing a mundane chore when I’m going through a rough patch.
What about other aspects of my life? Am I happy with the balance I’m striking?
Even though spending time with our passions makes us better parents, co-workers, partners and friends, we still need to be cognizant of balancing the needs of our families and other work with our writing. When I ask myself this question, I usually see that I’ve been taking care of my family and other work first, which leads me to reaffirm the need to keep my writing time sacred. Things I do for myself are harder to maintain than things I do for others, but that doesn’t make them less important.
At The End: Reflection And Growth
How did this project help me grow as a writer?
This is the most important question you can ask yourself at the close of a project, because improving our writing abilities should be the goal that transcends the project itself. When I’m finished with the final draft of my current novel, I can’t wait to go back and compare it with my first to see how far I’ve come.
How and when did I do my best work?
You can plan in advance for this question by collecting data to analyze at the end of your project. Did you use a word-tracking app, or write down when and how much you wrote? Take time to study the data and figure out the times of day and conditions under which you were most productive (i.e. evening, coffee shop). And hey, this reflection doesn’t have to wait until the end of the project! I just upped my daily word count mid-novel by asking myself this question.
What can I do differently and better next time?
As you gear up for the next project, consider your process. Was it effective? Efficient? Maybe it produced great work, but took longer than you’d like. Maybe you occasionally had to go back a step, such as returning to research while in the midst of story-telling. Map out a better process for next time, and every future writing project will benefit.
If any of these prompts helped you in your writing process, I’d love to hear about it! You can email me at leannesowul(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a tweet @sowulwords.
Remember, the words on the page are a reflection of their author. Take care of yourself so that you can care for your writing!
Leanne Sowul is a writer, teacher and mother from the Hudson Valley, NY. She writes historical fiction and memoir, and just completed her first YA novel. Her blog Words From The Sowul is a haven for writers, readers and lovers of words.