Writing Tips: Some Thoughts On Living the Writing Life
I’ve been serious about playing at being a writer for quite a long time now. It all started when I was very young, took a detour for a few years when it seemed that I needed to concentrate on raising a young family and building some sort of career that actually pays the bills, then came slamming back with some force about twenty years ago.
I’ve read, listened to, and inwardly digested more tips than hot dinners (and I like my dinner) and I’ve also tried to adopt many suggested strategies, daily routines, and daily rituals as suggested by some of the best.
And they are all great. Everyone’s routines, rituals, and writing spaces are exactly what worked for them. But there is a reason why they differ. They all belong to different people.
Some are early birds that rise before the dawn and get their words down before the sun comes up.
Others are night owls that wait for the rest of the world to go to sleep before they start their writing day.
Some write all day. Every day.
Some write whenever they can squeeze a few words in here and there.
Some are weekend writers. Others wait for their annual leave.
Many need a cup of coffee at hand, or a mug of mead. One or two require complete silence, while several others need the buzz of activity around them.
Maybe they like a quiet study, with a view over the ocean or rolling hills, or perhaps a corner of the family room where they can keep an eye on the kids is more to their taste (needs?), or inside the hallowed space of their local library or coffee shop works well for them.
You get the picture.
I’ve had a go at most of them, and I’ve discovered that I like a quiet room with a nice view to stare at from time to time, where I can shut the door and I can come and go without having to close my document every time I wander away from the keyboard (I discovered coffee shops were tricky if you were on your own because trips to the toilet involved packing up and carrying your laptop with you!).
I rarely play music, but, if I do, I like something quiet and classical, and, on the whole, I like the sounds of nature, and am greatly inspired by rainfall tapping against the window if it can be arranged.
Mornings suit me best as I tend to run out of energy for being creative as the day wears on, and I’ve been a part time writer until this last year or so when I retired from (paid) work, rubbed my hands together with glee, nominated myself as a full time writer, and discovered that it doesn’t work like that. Instead, I’ve discovered that I am now on flex-time and I still work in my writing around life. Which is good, because being a full time writer does not absolve you from actually experiencing life.
Today, for instance, I’ve done some research, laid down some words in my WIP, gone for a long walk, worked on some art for a different project, done a load of washing, unloaded (and reloaded and re-unloaded) the dishwasher, taken the compost out, done a cursory wipe down of the kitchen benches and sink, watched a video on using textures and whites in watercolour, decided the corner of the family room is a lost cause, emptied the rubbish bin, put the recycling out, made umpteen cups of tea and eaten one or two meals and snacks, read a book for a while, and got started on this blog post. I still have a list of things to get though.
I’m working on a timer, because I’ve also worked out that if I don’t have a little thing bleeping at me from time to time to remind me to get up and move around, I am perfectly capable of sitting at my desk for hours on end and wondering where the time went.
I set it for 52 minute working blocks with a 17 minute break to do the housework or have a cuppa to pick me up – this is because I read somewhere that 52 minutes is the optimum time to focus on an activity, and 17 minutes is the optimum time for recharging in between.
It’s delightfully quirky and does seem to work for me.
(It's okay, though, lots of other people do 50 minutes and a ten minute break - less quirky but probably more practical)
I’m experimenting today on having something different for every block – but I’m feeling too torn in different directions and will probably go back to focusing several blocks on one task.
I’m not sure how I will fit everything into my week… there seems to be so much to do. Every time I check my master/grandmother list it seems to be growing. I prioritise onto an urgent/important list, and set a plan out at the beginning of the day, but I often feel like I’m skimming the surface.
On top of that, I try to make sure that I’m available for family things – I treasure every moment spent with my resident young adult or the big kids or my grandchildren or my wonderful mum or brothers, and, yes, even my husband of near forty years (39 this coming August) – and take time for myself.
The fact that much of my me time is attached to bookish, writerly and arty things is a happy choice, and tomorrow I’m combining an artist date with some mum time with a visit to the National Gallery where we will soak up some Boticelli to Van Gogh together and find somewhere nice to have a cuppa and a cake.
Tomorrow, I won't get much writing done. Or anything much really.
But inside of all this is the routine/writing life that works for me, at this point in time, for now.
At times, I’ve religiously followed the writing of the morning pages as per Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I’ve adapted them and changed them and even illustrated them, and now I’ve stopped doing them altogether because it is more than I want to fit in over the course of my writing day. I’ve got too much to do, and it doesn’t serve me. It might serve you.
I’ve tried to follow a ritual of lighting a candle and meditating before I write, but I now head out for a walk and let nature work its magic instead.
I’ve eschewed Hemingway’s advice to ‘write drunk and edit sober’ as day time drinking has never been a thing with me and, if anything, I suspect it’d work better the other way around if I tried it! I survive instead on copious quantities of tea – and that is my special ritual with different teas for different times of day.
But when it comes down to it, I think the best advice I can offer you on living the writerly life is to find out what works for you - now, at this time, not what you wish for - and just do it.
Or, as Neil Gaiman says:
put one word after another.