I’ve been saying for a few weeks that I’ve been on a break from writing. It was only when I was explaining what this meant to a non-writing friend the other night that I realised that my idea of a break is probably not most people’s idea of a break.
The past month I’ve been spending a LOT of time thinking about stories. I’ve been trying them on for size, working out which one fires me up the most to spend a lot of time with it. The other thing I’ve been doing is reviewing a lot of old writing. I’ve been checking out where I got up to on old stories, reading plans for stories, updating all my excel spreadsheets so I get a good picture of all my non-finished stories. Basically getting an overview of everything outstanding.
Interestingly, I’ve also been writing. While not working on a new project just yet, I have been prepping stuff for send-out, giving work to beta-readers and writing this blog each week. I haven’t counted any of this as writing.
My new definition of ‘writing’ is when I am totally immersed in one project. When I come home from work and get onto the computer instead of the TV. I think about it when I’m on the bus, walking to the shop, or even (scarily) when driving familiar roads. Writing for me now is when I have made a commitment to a story to get it finished.
That’s what I’ve not done over the last month, and that’s why I say I’ve been on a ‘break’. But I think it is time to take the plunge. By this time next week, I plan to be in a committed relationship… with my next novel.
In the past two weeks I have done no fiction writing. I don’t feel bad about it (like I usually do) but neither do I feel particularly good. If I’m honest it has left me a little empty. I have also been struck by how much free time I actually have. Now I understand why my friends with kids and families to organise question what I do with my days. I had no idea how much time I filled with writing until I stopped.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not spent all that time on the lounge in front of the TV (but a big chunk has gone that way). I’ve been gardening, exercising, cooking proper meals and giving my friends and family the attention they deserve. I’ve enjoyed this time away, but I can feel the hole inside me opening wider every day. I chose to ignore it, until now.
Yesterday I started coming down with my first cold in many months. Maybe even years. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a cold. I can’t help but wonder if my dropping the ball on my writing might have contributed. My body is telling me that I’ve got the balance out of whack.
I know people will think it is a long stretch to draw this conclusion, but I am a big believer in mind over matter, and I know that right now things feel wrong by not writing. I wrote more in the past 24 months than I had in the previous 6 years and I have been pretty healthy in the past 24 months. I truly believe my life was nicely balanced then. Now it is not.
My muse is not with me, and I have no ideas for stories, but today I’m going to write. Just putting those words down has sparked a flicker of excitement in my belly. Let’s see if I knock this cold on the head before it really takes hold. If it does, then I think I have to accept my fate and commit to writing for the rest of my days. I really like that idea.
I know that I don’t really suffer from writers block. I suffer from not writing. It’s not that the muse is missing, the ideas aren’t coming, or my brain is shutting down on me, it is pure and simple that I don’t sit myself down at the computer and force myself to write.
How do I know this? Because this week I wrote. I wanted to enter a competition which closed at the end of May, but it had opened at the beginning of January. I had two stories which needed a bit of work, but I neglected to do it for weeks and weeks on end. Then the deadline was on my doorstep, so I sat down and did it.
I wrote several thousand new words and edited nearly seven thousand words all up. Not a huge number, but it is a number. It’s a number that really I should be getting each week. I did that number with all the same work, family and social pressures that I’ve had ever other week when I did not write.
I don’t have another deadline looming, so I know I am running the very real risk of slipping back into doing no writing. But at least now I will see that for what it really is; laziness.
Most people who have joined a writers group or done a course in creative writing have done writing exercises. I haven’t. I’m one of those people who reads a ‘how to’ creative writing book and diligently reads the exercise at the end of each chapter, but never does them.
I feel like I’ve got enough unwritten or unfinished stories that if I’m going to sit down and write, it should be to get those done. Writing about my character’s childhood or their last breakup seems a bit pointless. I can know how it would have been for them, but that’s a moment’s reflection, I don’t feel I would gain anything from writing it down.
I can’t help but wonder, though, if during these little hiatuses that I seem to have with increasing regularity, if maybe I did some exercises I might get back into the habit of writing again much faster. There is only one way to find out. I’m going to try a writing exercise. I’ll let you know how I get on.
I once heard artists described as ‘selfish’ people. This came from an artist. Having ruminated over this for a while, I can see where they were coming from. Most forms of art require a lot of focus and dedication, often at the expense of focus on the world (and its people) outside. Isn’t this the very definition of selfish? Being lost in one’s self?
There are a lot of negative connotations around selfishness, in fact I can only think of negative aspects of it, other than for the person who is being selfish of course. But maybe this is where art breaks through the selfish definition? I think of all those novels, songs and art which have given me so much joy. I am so grateful to those artists that they didn’t let family commitments or overdue friend catch-ups come between them and their art. I benefit daily from the artistic selfishness of others.
Perhaps the truly selfish thing for the artist to do would be to hold that creativity in so that no-one else gets to experience it? Maybe I need to get a bit more selfish to become less selfish? In summary; I need to write.
I was asked the other day how my writing was going. The short answer was that it wasn’t. Then (before I realised what I was saying) I said I had no muse. Where did that come from? Was it my subconscious mind talking to me, or was it a knee-jerk excuse?
The traditional muse is a person, but I’ve written plenty before without one of those inspiring me, so it got me thinking – what is my muse? When I look back on my productive writing times there has been one really common element; hating work. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say my muse is the hatred of work, I think it is the fear of being trapped there forever.
Lately I haven’t been hating work. It has been really busy, and sometimes stressful, but I don’t dread getting out of bed in the mornings. That then leads me to the even bigger question; how productive would I be if I didn’t have work? Would fear of starving inspire me to write in the same way as the fear of being stuck in a hated job for the next 30 years?
Now my psychology education is pretty out of date now, but I’m pretty sure that depending on fear to motivate you is probably not a good thing. So I guess what I need to do is turn that around and find the opposite of fear to motivate me, so what is that? Contentment? Comfort? Security? The last word isn’t one I’d normally associate with a career in writing, but maybe that’s this year’s challenge?
It took me a few years to conquer the last challenge (patience) but the slowing down of all the systems at work finally helped me master that one. It’s now time for a new challenge, so let’s see if I can use ‘a desire to attain’ instead of ‘a fear of having something forced upon me’ to become a motivating factor. Easy. 😐
Lately, I’ve been thinking about exactly what writing is, as you can gather from my posts, and now I’m redefining my concept of writing. I used to think of it as just putting words on a page, that writing was literally writing but there is so much more to it than that.
Thinking is a big part. One of my friends says her first draft is the one she comes up with in her head. There is no writing at all for that one, you see it as a private movie, some scenes being replayed dozens of times before you are happy to move on. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.
Writing is also considering which way to go next. I have five core pieces of writing that I have started and hope to finish one day, another twenty which are just started but I’m almost ready to let them go. Working out which one is the next one to commit to is a big decision. That too is writing.
I think the only time I will be able to stay that I have stopped writing is when I stop thinking about it. At the moment I think about something to do with my stories every day, multiple times a day.
So this week I did a lot of writing in my head. Sure, this new definition may just be giving me an excuse to avoid putting the words on the page, but I don’t see how getting stressed about not writing will help me either.
I’ve been sitting here trying to think up a post I could write which would distract you from the fact that I’m not answering my last post, but I couldn’t. So honesty is the best policy; I didn’t write a word.
The positive side is that I didn’t even turn on the computer, so it’s not like I sat staring at a blank screen three times this week. The curse of active November struck again and I had unexpected events covering two ‘dedicated’ writing times, and one night I was just too damned tired.
So I’m going to try again this week. If I’m writing the same post next week, then you know I’m embracing the excuse and maybe I really am just avoiding writing.
I have a very short fuse at the moment. Everyone is feeling it; friends, family, my computer (but in my defence the computer has seriously been provoking me this week). What’s even worse is I feel justified in every outburst, which is very out of character for me. The guilt module has apparently been uninstalled.
There is a lot of stress at work again, with 200 people being made redundant last month and a threat of more on the way. I’ve also managed to over-book my weekends, leaving the precious little time at home to be filled with unavoidable chores.
But I wonder if the stress is not really the cause of my grumpiness, after all, it is usually there in one form or other. I am starting to think it is the lack of writing.
True, the stress has impacted on the urge to write, but maybe when I have been turning away from the computer I should actually be turning to it? It is like when you start feeling sad, so you avoid going out, but when you do get forced to go out you realise it is the best medicine for your sadness. I think writing might actually be my stress outlet.
So I will say no to a few people this week (lucky for the guilt un-installation), turn the phone off, detach the internet, unplug the TV and force myself to write. I will commit to Monday night, Thursday night and Saturday ALL morning. Let’s see if this is the kick-start that starts to improve my mood as well as my productivity.
My day job is all about electronic document management. That’s why it is so embarrassing to discover how bad I am at paper document management.
Before I got started on the next writing project I thought I’d pull together all the work I’ve done on it so far. It is not that there is a lot, but it is everywhere!!!!! Just when I think I’ve got it all, I find a notebook with a few random pages of scribbles.
What I wonder is how did I ever expect to use all these notes when I seemed to be doing my best to hide them so well? I know how it happens, I get an idea and I don’t want to lose it, so I write it down in whichever notebook I have close at hand. But that is the best way to lose ideas, not record them.
My recently finished project was started and finished in a short period of time, which might account for my extremely helpful decision to make all my notes in the one book. Everything I had ever thought about the story was in one place.
So I think I’m going to invest in an expanding file and rip out all the ‘novel notes’ from my different pads and put all the related story ideas together. Yes, it does sound like another excuse for some heavy duty procrastination, but I think it is necessary!
Now if I could just work out how to apply metadata to paper…