novel writingWriting Fear Free

Writing Fear Free: Mise en Place

In the culinary world, mise en place means getting everything ready to cook: gathering the ingredients, pots, pans, knives, and the other accoutrements necessary for preparing a gourmet meal. In plain old French, it means “putting in place.” And in my world, it means getting everything set up for writing: choosing your venue, your medium for writing, your inspirational beverages, and even the time of day best suited for creating your future bestseller.

But getting started on a novel is almost as difficult as finishing it, and a great percentage of the time, the manuscript fizzles before it is even started. Why?

Because we are afraid of doing it wrong.

How do writers write? Where do they sit? What do they drink? What time of day do they write? Do they write longhand or use a computer or typewriter? How many words per day do they write? How many hours?

These questions are normal. As aspiring novelists, we are interested in the process of writing, and we want to know what works for those writers who have already gained some level of success. We want to emulate it. We think that if we do everything the same way, we will also achieve success.

I prefer latte in my writing IV.
However, fixating on questions of mise en place can be an indication that, like most budding writers, we are afraid that we are going to do it wrong. I used to read a lot about other writers’ creative processes, and I tried to do what they did. If someone said that they wrote in the morning in a quiet room facing a due west, I tried it. If they said they wrote with iced tea on an IV drip, I tried it. Unfortunately, this resulted in some level of misery all around–and quite a few bathroom breaks–but in a way, it was good. I learned what worked for me and what did not.

Here’s what I discovered: Writing a novel should be fun. Yes, it’s also work, but if we are not getting some level of enjoyment from the creative process, then what’s the point? The best way for me to set things up was not based on what worked for others, but on what worked best for me and my life and quirks.

So here are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine your mise en place:

  • Do you require absolute silence to concentrate? Think about your study habits in school. Did you have to be alone in the library to study, or were you blasting music in your dorm room?
  • When are you most alert? Some people are morning people, and some–like me–are night owls. Write when you are energized, no matter what time of day.
  • Can you type well? If so, write on your computer. Or heck, use a typewriter if it gives you that old-timey newspaperman mystique. Do you prefer to feel the words as they are scratched on paper? If so, write longhand. It doesn’t matter, but be aware that if you write longhand or use a typewriter, your manuscript will have to go digital at some point.
  • How much time are you willing to devote to writing? This will help decide your daily output.

My writing process is decidedly couch-potato-like. I prefer to write on my laptop while sitting on the couch, usually with the TV on. Yes, with the TV on. I am not one of those people who requires absolute silence to concentrate. In fact, I seem to do better with some level of distraction because it keeps me from over thinking in the writing phase. I keep a latte or a Dr. Pepper on the end table, and I often have a feline assistant, although she doesn’t do too much in the way of actual assistance. But I digress. Most of the time, I write late at night, but if I am feeling particularly excited about some passage, I begin earlier in the day, but never in the morning.

So not a morning person.

I write  four to five days a week, and there was is a minimum daily word count that I have to achieve before packing up for the night. And I stick to it, but not legalistically. On special occasions, I skip a writing day or fudge a word count. Surprisingly, when I skip a day of writing, I find that I miss it. I make it an enjoyable experience for myself by being true to my personal preferences, quirks, and habits.

So what set up will work for you?

I have no idea.

But you do. You know what you like and how you work best.

But whatever you do, do it consistently. And I highly recommend the Starbucks IV.

So what is your mise en place like?

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