My Writing Day

The first shaft of morning light slices between the curtains, spilling time across the floor in expanding pools of gold. Your eyes are bleary and full of sleep. You groan and stretch, check the time, sigh. Another day is here. Another chance to turn it all around, to prove to the haters that your not a fake, a wannabe, a pretender to pen and page. You’re a bona fide writer, dagnamit, and today you’re fricken Dickens. But how do you go about it? How do you approach the business of writing and thus dispel the illusion that you’re actually just a lowly accounts clerk dreaming of being a writer?

It’s all in the Approach

Everyone has their methods, their rituals, their compulsions when it comes to writing. No two writers are the same, or so I’m told. Some like to write first thing in the morning. Some like to write in the middle of the night. Many start their writing with a coffee, a few like to tee off with something a little stronger. Some can’t be within five feet of a laptop without their lucky pants tied firmly around their head (just me? Okay then). Planner, pantser, seasoned veteran, fresh-faced newbie, potay-to, potah-to. Each to their own and all that. There are, I’m sure, a thousand and one methods of approaching this thing and not one of them will be correct. So how do I get my groove on? How do I butter up my literary muse in the hopes of a glimpse of something saucy? It’s simple really. I take my pants off and start planning.

To Plan or to Pants? That is the Question

I always have to know where a particular plotline is heading but I prefer to discover my characters as I write so I guess I’m both a planner and a pantser. I’m toying with the social norms, I know. The thing is though, I have to know that those clever little plot threads I’m spinning are knotting in the right places and that, my good friends, takes meticulous planning. The tapestry has to mirror the design, so to speak. I’ve tried writing stories without planning them first but when I do, I tend to break out in hives. My characters, on the other hand, seem much more real, much more human, when I let them mature on the page. Other than a name, a few vital statistics, and a general sense of who they are, I basically leave them to their own devices. I mean, sure, sometimes they get up to all sorts of mischief and I end up having to either redesign my tapestry or murder a few of my darlings but that’s part of the fun of writing, isn’t it? Creating worlds and people that don’t actually exist and pitting them against each other then sitting back to watch the fireworks. Whenever I’ve tried to plan a character to fit a particular role, they’ve always come across as stiff and two-dimensional like cardboard cut-outs on a vacant stage. It just doesn’t work. Oh, and I tend to break out in hives.

Wherefore Art Thou, Muse?

I always begin my writing session with a quick browse of Google Images and a ruddy good brainstorm. Pictures are the most effective tools for generating story ideas, I find. What I’m looking for when I’m browsing is an image that plucks my imagination like a violin string and resonates long after it’s gone. The image can be of anything or anyone: a misty mountaintop or a grizzled old granny – or a grizzled old granny on a misty mountain top, eating ice cream and howling at the moon. Now there’s an idea for a story! I also find that ‘the more the merrier’ rings true here. Taking not just one but a handful of images (say four or five or, heck, sometimes I’ll go crazy and pick six) from varying subjects and sources is the best way to find unique characters and settings as well as original, thought provoking plotlines. Plotting in this way is rather like joining the dots in a huge, multi-dimensional picture book. As the story unfolds dot by dot, image by image, plot-point by plot-point, I see it gaining shape and structure before my very eyes. It can be nerve-wracking in the beginning, when I’m not sure what the picture’s going to be, but once I’ve traced that initial outline, all I need to do is fill in the gaps. Some of my most original work has come about in this way. Sure, not all of it makes sense and some of it’s just plain weird but it’s an incredibly satisfying process and I always have fun doing it, which is kind of the point anyway.

Thou shalt go Forth and Build an Arc-itechtural Haven

I’ve touched on this before, I know, but just to recap, I write in a hole at the bottom of my garden. Okay, okay, it’s not a hole per se, more a shed really. Actually it is a shed. Roald Dahl wrote some of his best stuff in a shed so I figured what the hell? I used to write in the sitting room, in the kitchen, even the bedroom – anywhere I could capture that elusive golden moment (in my head, it kind of looks like a snitch from Harry Potter). When that peace was repeatedly interrupted by kids and pets and partners (and jobs and chores and in-laws), I migrated to the attic where I gathered my words amid mountains of abandoned toys, charity bags full of old clothes, and umpteen offcuts of carpet (not to mention various eight-legged literary critics with a penchant for frightening would-be writers when they’re at their most vulnerable). My shed though, now that’s something else. It’s my little haven in the storm. My hideaway. My place to let loose and let the creative juices flow. It’s modest, sure, but I love it. When I’m in my shed nothing seems out of reach. The world is my clamshell, so to speak, and anything goes when I’m safely within those pine-panelled walls. It’s vital that we writers have a place that’s ours, a place where we can be at one with our wordsmithery and transcend reality for a time. I don’t know about you but it’s the only thing that keeps me sane.

Will They Love me in the Morning?

My writing career (such as it is) is built on sacrifice. I sacrifice time with my kids, my partner, my family and my friends in order to shape stories that may never be read by another human being, let alone get published. I have to make peace with that truth every time I head out to my little shed at the bottom of the garden. Am I wasting my time? Am I damaging my most precious and intimate relationships in the pursuit of something as transient and incorporeal as a dream? I know how slippery that dream can be. The process of writing, for me, is like grasping at eels in a bucket. It’s frustrating, time consuming, and in order to be in with a chance of success, you have to get your hands dirty. You have to put the time in. The trick to this thing is compromise (and a lot of planning). I schedule my writing time (two hours every day) and I adhere to it come hell or high water. Everyone knows when mum’s in her shed, she’s not to be disturbed. Period. Unless, of course, it’s snowing or someone famous has died. However, when that shed door swings open and she steps, bleary eyed and blinking, into the afternoon sunshine, they know that writing time is over and mum is back. From then on my time belongs to my family. I embrace them with my full and unwavering attention and for the remainder of the day I am theirs and no-one else’s. That, my friends, is how I spend my days – sacrificing one happiness for another.

Writing is a selfish pursuit. Writers are a different breed of animal. To do what we do takes commitment, perseverance and dogged determination. Writing is a solitary endeavour but that doesn’t make us solitary creatures. We need to interact with others. We need to experience the world in order to write about it. So get out there, boys and girls, go chase those dreams because they sure-as-shit aint gonna chase you.

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Dealing With Distractions

The biggest problem I have when writing is becoming distracted. There’s always something going on. There’s always someone demanding my attention. There are always chores to do, responsibilities to fulfil, workplaces to attend. There’s the fact that I don’t have anywhere that I can use specifically for writing. I write in the sitting room mostly, or in my bedroom. I write in the garden if the weather’s nice (pah!). I’ve even tried writing in a corner of the attic, among the spider webs and the old toys and the accumulating off-cuts of carpet. But I can’t seem to escape the drudgery long enough to get any significant volume of words on the page.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t help myself either. Having recently joined Twitter, it seems I have fallen prey to the whims of my own ego. Instead of using what valuable (and limited) time I have to write, I watch that little number on the browser tab instead. I make strange, pointless comments about crap no-one’s interested in in order to maintain a presence in this surreal cyberspace. I repeatedly check to see if anyone new is following me, or if any of them have mentioned me. What are my literary idols doing? What are they saying? Are there any publishing houses following me? Is anyone interested in what I have to say? Anyone at all?

And all the while that Word document remains blank. That cursor keeps blinking. So I find myself asking the question: do I want the distractions or do I want to write? Clearly I can’t have both and so the answer, of course, is option two. I want to write. I want to write my gelatinous butt off.

In light of this epiphany it has become imperative that I give my writing the time and attention it rightly deserves. Though there are certain distractions I will never be able to ignore, like my children for instance (pesky kids!), there are things I can do to minimise the others. I believe that the smallest changes can have the biggest impact – a little twizzle here, a gentle fiddle there – and to that end I have made some resolutions, commandments if you will, that will hopefully help me become the writer I dream of being.

1. Thou shalt not browse
There shall be no internet access when writing. None of any kind. This includes research for said writing. Anything I need to know I can ‘Google’ after the fact. So Twitter, you’re just gonna have to wait. No, stop flashing that little number at me, I don’t care what you’ve got to say. I not going to tell you again! Stop it I tell you!

2. Thou shalt not view terrestrial images
There is to be absolutely, categorically, no TV whilst creative juices are flowing. Not even if Eastenders is on. In-fact, I’m getting rid of the TV altogether. There’s never anything on anyway. Except Eastenders of course. And Breaking Bad. And Game of Thrones. No..! *Shakes fist at the sky* I. Must. Resist.

3. Thou shalt build an arc-itechtural haven
I shall go forth and purchase a desk (or build one from old bits of wood I find in the shed, I’m not fussed really). This will prevent painful knee burn from prolonged laptop supportage. Furthermore, this newfound ergonomic bliss will help with my posture (I’m developing a weighty hunch) and will alleviate backache caused by aforementioned hunch. I vow to keep said workspace clear of clutter at all times in the pursuit of at-one-ness with my wordsmithery and will find a place somewhere out of the way, preferably with a moat and some kind of drawbridge, to which only I have the key. Mwah-ha-ha-ha *strokes white cat*

4. Thou shalt write thine arse off
I shall write. Just write, dagnamit! Write, write, and when I’m done writing, shit, I’ll write some more! I’ll write until I collapse to the floor in breathless relief and fall into a fitful stupor. I’ll write until my brain implodes and my fingers fall off. I’ll write morning noon and night. Unless I’m working of course, or sleeping, or, you know, feeding my children and such.

Okay so that’s only four commandments, but you get the gist. The point is that I’m making changes and, as with everything in life, it’s an ongoing process. So what am I going to do now, I hear you ask?

Why, write of course.

Happy Birthday to the Lord of Epic Fantasy

tolkienOne man to rule them all,

One man to find them,

One man to bring them all,

and in his genre bind them.

This man changed my world when, one rainy day in March 1989, I sat down to read The Hobbit for the very first time. It was the first ‘proper’ book I’d ever read and the power of Tolkien’s words thrust me onto a road I have wandered ever since.

So here’s to you John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, wherever you may be.

Happy New Year!

Well, it’s 2014 and I’m sitting here contemplating my resolutions. Now, I’ve never been any good at sticking to them so this year I’m going to take a leaf out of Henry Moore’s book and think in days rather than years.

Today’s resolution is somewhat predictable given the spirit of last night – ooft, ‘spirit’, don’t remind me – in that I’ve decided all alcoholic beverages are the devil! Especially those pretty pink ones they serve with raspberries floating in them. Oh, and the ones bartenders set fire to; you know, the ones that come in little shot glasses?  So, to summarise – I’m hailing that proverbial wagon and I’m getting the hell on. Yes I am, yes I am, yes I am. This is a good resolution. I’m already feeling a little better.

Now then, what shall I resolve to do tomorrow?

Probably to ditch today’s resolution and open that bottle of Chardonnay I’ve got in the fridge.