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  • Writing around life, not about it...
    by utherdragonpen at 01:49 on 29 July 2013
    Hi all

    Just joined on the recommendation of an acquaintance, got the months free to start (watch the pennies and all that), loving it so far!

    I have a quick question about a long term problem. I've been working on the same project for 8 years, on and off. One of the main problems is 'life'. Every time I try and write, something gets in the way. I don't have a great memory and I'm easily thrown off track.. it can be something as simple as a phone call, or my neighbour landing unannounced (one seven week period, EVERY time I started writing, she rang the doorbell within 15 minutes!). I have various health issues, and regularly one hits as I'm just getting into my writing stride. It's gotten so I have a major hang-up...I'm fearful of starting, as I fully expect to be interrupted, and I know that once interrupted it can take days, sometimes weeks if it's a MAJOR interruption to get back into it. So, how do I write when I can't guarantee peace? I don't have any 'safe haven' (to quote Aladdins genie, 'believe me, I know. I've looked'.), and it's become a real issue. Thanks in advance for any thoughts.
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Terry Edge at 10:31 on 29 July 2013
    Dorothea Brande's book, On Becoming a Writer, provides some very good solutions to what you're experiencing.
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by EmmaD at 10:48 on 29 July 2013
    Yes, Brande is absolutely brilliant on that stuff.

    I think, though, you have to decide first that the writing comes higher up your list of priorities. That's easy to think, until you realise that it means shoving some other things - especially other people's things - further down. It means putting yourself first, not other people. That's what creativity needs.

    For example - and I am absolutely not, not, not telling you that you "should" have done or do these things, but in your place I'd decide which hours/days/weekends are my writing days, and then behave if I were in an office, not at home. I'd ignore the doorbell and the phone, I'd refuse to make appointments for those times, and avoid as much as possible doing anything in those slots except write. That's what voicemail and cards-through-the-door are for.

    Or, if you will need to answer the door for the postman, ask the neighbour only to disturb you after a set time, as you're work in the mornings. Same with other friends and family. There are writers who've rigged up a mirror so they can see who's there on the doorstep. If they persist on not doing as you ask - not only coming round after six, say - then that's their problem. You don't have to gratify someone's emotional need for company and attention by doing any more than say, "Sorry, can you come back at six?" Unless they're actually telling you that the whole street is going up in flames, it will wait. Repeat "Can you come back at six, please?" until they bugger off.

    If you need to clear more time, give up ironing/cleaning/anything else which will not make the heavens fall or attract more mice than you can cope with. Delegate any chores you possibly can. Writing comes first. It's amazing how many things, especially domestic stuff, actually shrink down to fit the new, smaller space you're now allowing it.

    Health is difficult, but you could try keeping a journal, and just write a tiny bit, not related to the project, every day. That way you're not starting the writing-engine up from cold once you're finally on the mend.

    Accept that your writing on bad days won't be so good, or so much, but write anyway. It doesn't have to be perfect, it only has to be there: perfect can come later, when you're feeling better.

    But, one last thought: could it be that you need a rest from this project? Might it possibly be difficult to get yourself clear the space it needs because it's got rather tired for you? You might find that writing something else for a bit re-connects you with your original drive to write, and enables you to see this project more clearly: what you're doing with it, where it's going, what it still needs and whether that's what you really, truly want to spend your limited writing time and energy on.

    On safe havens - I think they're mental as well as practical. For me, music helps. One thing is just to decide to sit there. The words may not come, but as long as you're not doing anything else - facebook, emails, yet more coffee you don't really want, some "research" - then you're writing, if you see what I mean. And, funnily enough, the words always do come.

    (After all these years, I can actually deal with a (large, competent) child coming through the door every now and again to ask something, and not be thrown off track. I prefer it if they don't, but I just have to shrug it off and dive back in. If I can't, it's a sure indication that I don't know what I'm doing with the writing, and may need to stop trying to put more words on the page and think about what I'm trying to do with this scene.)

    This might help with the business of getting back into the writing, either at the beginning of a session, or after an interruption:


    Edited by EmmaD at 10:55:00 on 29 July 2013
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Alex29 at 07:08 on 30 July 2013
    Hi- I sympathise, having been alone on a farm in the middle of nowhere for 25 years 2 years ago my Mum moved in wanting to pull the house down and re build it and my lorry driver husband came back to drive in the UK and 'be at home more' so my absolute peace and quiet has become a war zone- at that point I realised that the writing was more important to me than any thing else and that no one was pulling my home down till I had it organised and 'typed up'and I have really struggled to find a way of working in what is a very small house that is now crowded with non writers- My Mum will walk behind me and cough etc when I am working and the huffy silence is so loud you can't think etc and so Radio 4 now stays on all the time - I listen to any music too much to work through it so radio 4 it is for me and I have also turned into a bag woman every thing lives in bags now and I can't spread out and leave it as husband wants his office back and I now have to provide meals from the kitchen at the kitchen table. I tried the car, library, a Pub and in desperation the stable and I have just about got used to traipsing about with my bags depending on what day of the week it is and who is where! But i am very much more organised now - I keep a writing journal/log of what I have done. What needs to be done and I leave everything as ready as I can to get going straight out of the bags but I have had to be ruthless especially with poor Mum who just dosn't get it- I am sitting thinking about a plot and she just talks at me - I even thought about hanging a sign around my neck saying 'working!' This cannot make me easy to live with! It is gradually getting better as Mum gets her own interests and husband apart for wanting his office has always been ok to write around but it is different than the days when I could come in and day dream and write but then I could never have thought of publishing any of that because it was far to lax and wandery- so in a big way I think the palaver has made it possible to take the writing seriously- I agree about the Dorothea Brand book and any others that take your fancy- something will click somewhere and a system will come out of it that works for you you just have to keep banging away at it. Good Luck MC
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Alex29 at 07:13 on 30 July 2013
    Me again! I forgot -the first thing I bought was headphones and I still use them when all else has failed and AD/DC turned up loud means I cannot hear their TV - radio 4 dosn't cover that as Mum has it turned up big time! MC
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Freebird at 12:11 on 30 July 2013
    firstly, welcome to WW and congratulations on having the BEST username

    You're so right - it is hard sometimes to find any quality time to write, but you just have to find your own ways of dealing with it. e.g decide that you are going to ignore everything (neighbour ringing bell, telephone etc) for a period and put in some earplugs if it helps. Or you'll just have to let it ride, deal with the interruption as quick as you can and go straight back to the writing.
    Or go out - does your local library have anywhere you can write? Or try a coffee shop (not so good if you're counting the pennies, but you can make one coffee last a long time...)
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Terry Edge at 13:07 on 30 July 2013
    I think desire is key. The reason why you want to write. Commercial writers tend to be very productive, which may be because it's their living, i.e. don't write, don't eat. If it's not going to be your living (at least not at first), then it's important to work out what's driving you.

    Recently, a writer told me she'd had an agent for two years who's still (apparently) trying to sell her first novel. I asked her what she's being doing in the meantime. She said she was about 7,000 words into the second novel. I didn't say anything to this but it suggests to me that she's lacking in desire to write. Perhaps she's just waiting for her 'break', then she'll get cracking. But of course it doesn't work like that. In fact, it's possible her agent is wondering if she's really professional enough. What she should have been doing is writing and writing; already given her agent the second and third books, which would have pushed him into action or at least to admitting he can't help, when she could go somewhere else.

    See, I don't buy that people don't have time to write. If you wrote for just an hour a day you could produce 1,000 words, which translates to 300,000+ a year, or say a couple of novels and a batch of short stories. The only reason not to do this is lack of desire. So, we all need to find that desire or admit we're not really that serious; that it's just a hobby. Nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, of course, but if so, then one's goals probably need to change.
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Astrea at 14:53 on 30 July 2013
    See, I don't buy that people don't have time to write. If you wrote for just an hour a day you could produce 1,000 words, which translates to 300,000+ a year, or say a couple of novels and a batch of short stories. The only reason not to do this is lack of desire.

    Hmm. I do see what you mean, but I think when there are other demands on your time, it's very hard to get back into the mental flow, even if you do carve out the odd free hour. I know I get really ratty when I've spent time at the weekend writing, and I feel everything's coming together, only to realise it's back to work on Monday. And on Monday evening no writing is done, ever, because my head is full of whoever's been on a rampage at work that day (I work at a mental health recovery unit).

    But yes, it is important to prioritise. If the aim is eventual publication, then it will mean a lot of time spent putting writing first, and seeing where Emma's excellent suggestions could be put into practice.

    I meant the service users rampaging, btw, not the staff. Well, not usually...!

    Edited by Astrea at 14:54:00 on 30 July 2013
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Terry Edge at 15:02 on 30 July 2013
    Hmm. I do see what you mean, but I think when there are other demands on your time, it's very hard to get back into the mental flow, even if you do carve out the odd free hour.

    I think it goes something like: Desire - Discipline - Desire - Facility. You have to have desire. Then you develop the discipline which releases it. Good discipline leads to second nature practices (so it doesn't seem like discipline any more), which feeds back into desire. Then you have facility - which means you can focus immediately at the start of that hour and maintain it.

    In 'Discipline' there are lots of exercises that will help make it reliable and fluid. I mentioned one a while back: writing exactly an A4 page every day, taking the first thought that enters your head when you pick up the pen and following it through. This isn't free-writing; you have to make what you say sensible, almost as if it was a newspaper column. As you progress, you gradually introduce more free-thinking/creativity - discipline back into desire.

    Edited by Terry Edge at 15:03:00 on 30 July 2013
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by EmmaD at 18:08 on 30 July 2013
    It can certainly help if, at the beginning of a session, or after an interruption, you don't demand that the first thing your imagination does is come up with some brand new words from nowhere.

    I do know a lot of writers who routinely do 10 mins freewriting, at the start of a session. One compares it to how when you put on the washing machine, the first thing it does is pump out the dirty water left in the piping from the last load.

    And I adore Ali Smith's warmup: You spend one minute, by the clock, writing down everything you can see, one minute everythign you can hear, then touch, then smell, then taste. You need to do it in that order - from the easy to the difficult - and I add in the sixth sense, which is the body's sense of itself: the weight of the pen in your hand, the feel of the edge of your chair on the backs of your thighs, the slight tilt forward of your head... And if the setting of your story is somewhere other than your own world, you can do it for that other world...Either way, it's amazingly centring and focussing. Just brilliant for getting yourself right back in, in six minutes.

    Edited by EmmaD at 18:41:00 on 30 July 2013
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Alex29 at 07:01 on 31 July 2013
    Hi Emma. That Ali Smith warm up looks brilliant I have never come across that before. Thanks. MC
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by EmmaD at 09:19 on 31 July 2013
    You're welcome, Alex. It's a good 'un - I use it when I'm running workshops too.
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Macwriter at 23:18 on 26 January 2014
    Learn to be rude-I have found that people soon get the message and cease talking to you if you don't answer:

    The phone never gets offended if I don't answer and, after a few rings, it gives up an switches to the answering machine;
    The postman was long ago bribed to leave letters and parcels without my signature (Christmas card stuffed with notes-it never fails);
    The dog has developed a large capacity bladder;
    Friends have been warned (the few that are left)-that just because I work from home doesn't mean you can drop in anytime you fancy. Well, you can, but expect the study door to close in your face.
    My partner has been trained by my stock phrase, "I can't answer you when I'm mid sentence-I AM WRITING!". (I will, I admit, grunt acknowledgment to the offer of a cup of tea).

    PS: I'm a psychologist so I'm allowed to be rude (sorry-I mean assertive, of course) and perhaps you are a pleasant and friendly persons who values friendships above writing.

    PPS: There's no way she could see this post is there....
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by AlanH at 01:06 on 27 January 2014
    I think having four tight walls (and a door, but no internet) around you is a great aid for concentration.
    Like others have said, you need to be focused, self-disciplined, and unafraid to be honest to those who seek your company.
    Do you have American origins? Perhaps you dream of wide-open spaces? 
  • Re: Writing around life, not about it...
    by Philip Birch at 20:01 on 19 June 2015
    I'm reading this and laughing. I have had the same problem. Since my divorce no problem. No really, I'm lucky in that I have full days to myself (when my new wife is at work) and I can get a few thousand words done with only time out to make coffee. I don't go with the idea that just banging out a thousand words at a time is good. Sometimes I have an idea and I must write it all as the inspiration hits me. Stopping just interrupts the flow and I find it hard to catch up. If not impossible. I write notes at work or where ever I am in a small note book. This is a great memory jog and helps with the flow of the story. 

    Much of my 'non-writing' time or the odd hour is spent researching detail and plotting the story's structure. The book I'm writing is set on a fictional TV game show similar to Big Brother so I've had to write the rules and regulations of the show and now I must write round them. Much of the story is set in and around certain real and historical events so I feel I must be accurate. It's a challenge but I love it.

    This forum is a great place and lots of knowlwgable people are ready to give their advice. I will upgrade to full membership in a week or two.
  • This 17 message thread spans 2 pages: 1  2  > >