Since going back into paid employment, I’ve had a lot less writing time. I’ve still been writing of course, because, well, I can’t help myself, I’m a writer! But it’s been squeezed into smaller and smaller bits of time.
But this weekend, I’m off to a writer’s conference and I’m so looking forward to it. A whole weekend to concentrate on all things writerly. I love spending time with other writers. I always come away inspired or encouraged or comforted – or all three.
And I’ll get a room of my own for the weekend – plenty of time and space to think and dream and write. Not only that, but I’ve got a long train journey to get there – also perfect writing time.
I can hardly wait!
At the moment, my time for reading is much less than it was before. Mostly I’m limited to a few minutes at bedtime. I bought a few books at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August. Normally, I’d have finished them ages ago, but I’ve still got one or two to go.
And that’s made me think about how I read. I’m usually a fast reader, one of those people that are described as devouring books. On holiday, I can easily average a book a day – I just get sucked in and keep going.
But because I have less reading time, I think I’ve slowed down. Of course, it would take me longer to read a book these days because I don’t have my nose in it for very long each day, but I think I’ve slowed down more than that. Reading a novel at one sitting, or over a few consecutive days, is a very different experience from reading a chapter a night or a few pages at a time. I find myself revisiting pages more often to remind myself of what I’ve already read. But I also find myself taking more in. I’m less likely to be tempted to rush to the end and more likely to lie ,back and enjoy the journey, savouring every word.
There’s much to be said for complete immersion in a novel, enjoying the feeling of being transported through the characters’ lives. But there’s also a lot to be said for nibbling away at the story, bit by bit. Maybe I don’t get the chance to feel completely full at any one time – but I get to linger over every tasty bite.
What do you prefer? Fast or slow?
A month ago I started a new job. The first salaried employment I’ve had for years – and the first full-time (paying) job I’ve had in even longer. So things have been a bit different round here for the last few weeks.
But I’m still a writer. I may have less time to write now – a LOT less time – but I’m still writing. Because I can’t stop myself. Because it’s such a bit part of me. Because the words and the ideas just keep on coming.
And tonight I’ve sent off my first submission in a while.
So, normal writerly service is resumed. Now excuse me, I have a synopsis to polish up.
This is what it can feel like when writing isn’t going well, usually in that saggy middle bit of a new book. I know it’s going to happen – it’s happened with almost every book I’ve written. I know I can get through it – because I’ve done it before. But knowing these things doesn’t necessarily help when I’m in the middle of the treacle-wading. It’s especially tough when the treacle seems to last a really long time.
Just as well that I’ve worked out some ways of dealing with that treacle then. And if these work for me, they might work for you too. So here goes, my top tips for sweeping away that treacle and discarding those flippers.
Apply posterior to seat
Yes, really. It sounds simple – just sit down in that writing chair, wherever it may be, and get started. But as anyone who has encountered the treacle will know, it’s not quite that easy. However, if I don’t sit down, ready to write, then I’ll never get through the block.
This is one way to making it easier to get started. I tell myself, “I’ll just open the document” or “I’ll just make some notes” or “I’ll just write for ten minutes.” Sometimes just getting started is all it takes to get the momentum going and I’ll be happily typing or scribbling away for ages.
Bribery works wonders for me. I promise myself that when I’ve written a certain number of words or edited a chapter or reached another short-term writing goal then I can have chocolate – even a chocolate button or too can be enough of an incentive.
Sometimes even the promise of a cup of tea will work (but I do know a group of writers who are also encouraged by a virtual St Bernard who runs the length and breadth of the country delivering an author’s favourite tipple in his trusty barrel).
If I finish in the middle of a scene or even the middle of a sentence, then I find it much easier to get into writing the next day. I have an immediate job to do in finishing what I’ve started and that’s a great incentive to get going. I know this works for me – but it’s also a bit scary. What if I don’t remember where my story was going when I come back to it? That’s why I often scribble cryptic notes to myself, so that I don’t lose the plot.
Make a date with your subconscious
When I’m really, really stuck I walk away from my writing. Getting increasingly frustrated with myself and annoyed with my book is not going to help. But before I walk away, I make a date with myself. I tell myself, for example, that on Tuesday morning at 10.30 I will sit down and start writing again. I give myself permission not even to think about what I’m writing until Tuesday. The thing is, my sneaky subconscious then gets to work without me knowing anything about it. When I sit down on Tuesday, a solution to the problem will just flow out and I’ll be thinking “Wow! Where did that come from?” It gets me every time.
Set goals – and go public
I’m one of those people who finds goals helpful. I know not everyone does but they work for me, especially for writing. I like to have fairly short term goals so that I can see where I need to go next and whether I’m getting there. Setting goals for myself is one thing, and it does work, up to a point, but what is even more helpful for me is to go public with my goals. I don’t mean that I go around with a loudhailer announcing my plans to all and sundry. I have found that sharing my goals with a small (secret – sh!) group of fellow writers and posting regular progress is really useful for treacle-wading purposes.
Deadlines help too
Ah, I hear you say, but nobody’s waiting for your finished work. You don’t have a deadline. Me neither. I don’t have a publishing contract at the moment and I don’t have any deadlines. So I set my own. This also works – but you have to believe in it. You have to be strict with yourself. And of course telling other people about your deadline is a help too.
Change of scene
If I’m getting nowhere at my desk, then I’ll unplug the laptop and go and sit in the sitting room or out in the garden. Or I go to a local café with my notebook or a printout of my latest draft and work there over a coffee.
Similarly, it can help to change my method – to switch from typing to longhand or vice versa, or to read my draft aloud rather than just reading it silently. I find that any of these things tilt my perspective just enough to get a fresh view on what I’m writing and help me to see the way forward.
Avoid social media
Set aside specific time and space for writing and don’t be tempted by social media. “I’ll just check Twitter” has a very similar effect on me to “I’ll just open the document” – ie I just go to check and then half an hour later I’m still on social media having a lovely time but not doing any writing. So no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Youtube, whatever your own particular downfall is, until you’ve done a chunk of work.
And that applies to blogs too – so why are you still reading this one? Go on, off with you and get writing. That’s what I’m about to do.
This week I’ve been turning things upside down. Instead of working with words at my desk and working with yarn in the sitting room, I swapped things around. I spent several hours in an armchair working on my latest novel – 50,000 words so far and very baggy and saggy, thanks for asking – and then I spent an hour cutting shapes out of home-made woollen felt. (It’s for a top secret project, so I can’t tell you any more about it just now.)
It felt a bit strange doing things the “wrong” way round, but I needed a clear, bright space to do the felt-cutting and my desk was perfect, so it worked well for that. It worked well for the writing too. The change of place seemed to give me a boost and I got far more done than I’d expected. The only downside was that being much closer to the kettle while I was writing meant that I drank at least twice as much tea or coffee as usual.
So there you have it, stepping out of your normal routine can be beneficial to the writer – just watch out for caffeine overload!
Writing can be a lonely business. For so much of the time it’s just the writer and the words. I work mostly from home, just me at my desk with my laptop or my notebook. The people I meet when I’m writing are all in my head or on the page, unless I venture out and about with my writing implements, in which case I will come across and maybe even exchange a few words with some real-life, live human beings in a local coffee shop or library.
And I do talk to other people every day – hey, I even live with some of the real-life variety (my family) and I’m not a complete writing hermit. I do have a social life and even some paid (non-writing) work that involves interacting with people. But I don’t often get to talk to people about the nitty gritty of writing. I don’t have a work colleague at the next desk to chat with over coffee or moan about things when they go badly or celebrate with when they go well. I do a certain amount of writerly chit-chat over social media, but it’s not the same as a face to face conversation.
Which is why it is so exciting to be going to a writing conference this weekend. A whole weekend, devoted to all things writerly, spent in the company of other writers – people who will understand the trials and tribulations as well as the punch-the-air-with-delight moments of the writing life. I am so looking forward to it.
It will be a great opportunity to meet up with people that I mostly know on-line and people I haven’t yet met. We have a packed programme which will be looking at all sorts of different aspects of writing, but we will also have time just to chill out and chat and get to know each other. I’m hoping to learn lots, be inspired and share my own thoughts too – maybe even discover some thoughts and ideas I didn’t know I had.
So I’m off to pack my bags now. Excuse me if I whistle – heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to conference I go…