Top 10 Essentials to a Writer’s Life

13 04 2013

I was recently reading through Eric Larson’s Top 10 Essentials List and had a good chuckle.  I figured I could “one up” on his list . So here’s his list and my CORRECTIONS 😉

Erik Larson Photo © Benjamin Benschneider

Top 10 Essentials to a Writer’s Life

1. Good Coffee: Every writer has a ritual that begins the day. It’s like turning a key to start your car. For me, the key that starts the day is a good cup of coffee, preferably Peet’s Coffee. (UGG! First of all, I HATE coffee.  For me, I prefer to start out my day with 15 minutes of meditation, 1 hour of cardio and LOTS of water.  Wake up the body=Wake up the brain.)

2. More Coffee: Alas, I drink as many as five cups a day. And then switch to tea. My teeth are the color of plum-tree leaves. ( My stomach is churning now… refer to number 1.)

3. Oreo Cookies: I mean, look, if you have a cup of good coffee, you need an Oreo. Some mornings—the tough ones—I define as two-Oreo days. Double Stuf preferred. (Okay, Eric is spot on here.  Can’t beat Oreos for brain food.  Just have to watch how many I consume.)

4. A Sense of Pace: Many writers make the mistake of engaging in what I call “binge writing.” They write for 10 hours straight, riding the perfect wave of inspiration. The problem is, you still need to wake up the next day and do it again. Best is to pace yourself. Write for three hours straight, without interruption, then stop. (Good rule of thumb.  I don’t always follow it but slow and steady does win the race.  I have been known to binge on occasion.)

5. Knowing Where to Stop: My favorite “trick” is to stop writing at a point where I know that I can pick up easily the next day. I’ll stop in mid-paragraph, often in mid-sentence. It makes getting out of bed so much easier, because I know that all I’ll have to do to be productive is complete the sentence. And by then I’ll be seated at my desk, coffee and Oreo cookie at hand, the morning’s inertia overcome. There’s an added advantage: The human brain hates incomplete sentences. All night my mind will have secretly worked on the passage and likely mapped out the remainder of the page, even the chapter, while simultaneously sending me on a dinner date with Cate Blanchett. (I’ve tried this and what ends up happening is I forget my train of thought. I do much better leaving myself a trail of breadcrumbs at the end of a day’s writing… little snippets of direction where I believe the story is heading. Then, when I sit down the next morning, I have all these snippets at the end of yesterday’s writing that fire my brain and beg to be strung together in the story line.)

6. Blocks of Undisturbed Time: I set aside a minimum of three hours every morning, seven days a week, during which no one is allowed to intrude except to report an approaching cruise missile. (I couldn’t agree more. ALL writers need absolute solitude to work on their craft.)

7. Physical Diversion: When I stop writing, I need an escape—something that takes me out of the work and wholly into another realm. My main diversion is tennis, though I also find cooking to be very helpful. Something about chopping onions is very restorative. Dogs are helpful, too. They force you to go outside and confront the weather, although my dog did once eat a 19th-century edition of a British physicist’s autobiography. (This is the sole reason I keep Harley around [our Dutch Shepherd]. He’s my outdoors tag-a-long. My Nikon 3000D provides a good outdoor incentive too)

8. A Good Library: For all writers, but especially those of us who write nonfiction, a good library with open stacks is crucial. (I think this is necessary for writer’s of all genres. I refer to other writing styles ALL the time. Some things just work well across the board and they are too numerous to retain mentally so having referencing material on hand is vital.)

9. A Trusted Reader: Every writer I know has at least one friend or partner who can be trusted to read early drafts of a book and provide an accurate, constructive critique. My secret weapon is my wife, who annotates the margins of my drafts with crying faces, smiles and long receding lines of zzzzzzzzzzzs. (Even better is having 3 or 4. A writer needs sets of eyes and other opinions because as we writers know, we are enthralled with our babies, no matter how ugly the world perceives them to be.)

10. A Fireplace: One of the most important things a writer must do is read, and there’s no greater pleasure than settling in front of a fire on a cold night with a good book (and maybe a glass of bourbon). Falling asleep in midpage is one of the delights of life. (Let me add to this, sitting on a beach on a warm night, listening to the ocean. We writers need to read as much as we need to write. It’s fuel to our minds, transfusion to our life’s blood, and balm to our souls.)

Erik Larson is the author of The New York Times bestsellers In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, Isaac’s Storm and The Devil in the White City, which was a finalist for a National Book Award. He has written for The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker and other publications. L.T. Bentley is the author of Fatal Compulsions and Daughter of My Heart.

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