Thursday, September 1, 2011

Write Anywhere, Anyhow: Limbering up for mental gymnastics

When I first started approaching the idea of Becoming A Writer (capitalized, because I apparently thought it required certain arbitrary steps), I thought I needed a particular physical space to do it in so that would adequately inform my mental space.

Somehow I got hooked on this idea and it ended up being one of the big reasons why I never got started. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that to be a writer I simply had to put fingers to keyboard and write. I thought that keyboard had to be in a particular place, away from particular people, with the right temperature, outlook, chair, computer, walls, inspirational posters and a cat gently purring it's consent to write in it's own basket in the corner.

Unfortunately, cats aren't always conducive to sleeping where you want them to. That's why mine sleeps on my office desk or tries to vie for attention with the laptop if I'm in a comfy space. Most expensuv kitteh butt warmah evah.

I started out thinking 'I need a computer of my own' because I hated writing long hand or deplored typewriters when I was younger (fool!). I got a computer of my own, and I didn't write. Then I thought 'I need my own office because I don't like people looking over my shoulder'. I got my own office space (shared, but separated by dividers), and I didn't write.

I didn't need physical space. I needed PERMISSION. Not from anyone else. More importantly, giving myself permission to try and fail and try and try again.

Since I've been serious about the gig, I've read How To's and books about the writing experience, followed author blogs and Twitter streams to get a feel for their daily experience and how that works for them. I've tried some of their exercises and space makers. Some of them have worked, some of them haven't.

This probably sounds like ridiculous common sense but here goes: find what works for you, and don't be afraid to experiment.

I was silly in saying 'I need XYZ to write' because I hadn't actually tried them out. Now that I'm underway, I'm still playing around with what works, and there's some fun in the trying because it means I actually do get something done in ways and places I didn't think I could previously!

I started out by making a firm commitment to my desk and time, which are my Writer Mondays. Then I began to absorb the concept that if I want to be more productive and mentally limber for my writing, I had to write more often, and I added a commitment to write 250 words or an hour for the other 6 days of the week. I've not always successfully stuck to this, but more often than not I can make up the word count on other days when I'm feeling particularly inspired.

Then I got a laptop and things started changing again. I could unshackle myself from a desk. I've found great pleasure in writing in bed over the winter (comfortable, warm, with pillows and cat), and I've discovered I like my easy chair in the lounge for a change in scenery. I've found opportunity to write in quiet times at other people's houses (eg: when on holiday), mostly sitting in a sunny spot. I've even managed to write as a passenger in a car (I had a huge creativity kick just as a journey was beginning). I can now write more often in short bursts with a laptop, and I find these more frequent short bursts are better for my word count, productivity and creativity.

I have yet to try out writing on a plane, in a cafe or amongst a group write-in. One thing that still holds true is that I need a certain volume level to concentrate and not that many people around me. I've got better with the people around me thing - I can deal with my partner nearby (in the house/room/car), but I haven't yet taught myself to set the rules for other people in my sphere.

This is important - to give yourself permission means you are your boss, you are working for yourself, and you have give other people clear limits. Whether that's a 'Do Not Disturb' sign, 'If the keyboard is rocking, don't come a-knocking' closed door attitude, or a firm 'don't call/talk/ask for anything between these times, I'll make it up to you later' to the people around you is completely up to you and your comfort levels. Even if it is just five minutes out of your day.

Music is also another head space to experiment with. It doesn't always work for me. If not silence, my best choice for concentration is wallpaper electronica. Sometimes if I have an image from a story playing in my head, I get a song or album that is a soundtrack to that, and I listen to that to keep the image revolving and evolving. Everyone is different - I have a friend who regularly writes to death metal, but then they are a horror writer.

Some examples of how people write are:
  • Early in Stephen King's career, he wrote at a tiny desk in his laundry. When he was recovering from his accident he sat at a makeshift desk in his hallway, which was easier to park his wheelchair up to.
  • Everyone knows the myth of Joanne Rowling writing in a cafe. I see some writers talking about using cafes for such nuances like the white noise of chatter in the background, free wifi, getting out of the house for a fresh perspective, and not going being allowed back to their usual distractions until a certain goal is hit.
  • Pro-wrestler, activist and author Mick Foley wrote his first books long hand while on the many flights he used to have to take working in the pro-wrestling industry.
  • Clearing a room or space of all distractions, including phone, internet and reading material.
  • I have a writer friend who writes during her kids naps.
  • During your lunch break, whether at your desk, in the lunch room, in your car, in a cafe, in the park, or on a bench.
  • If you're too office bound, even having a notebook handy to jot sentences or ideas down helps. I do the notebook thing a lot.  
  • Write on the train, bus or subway. Again, if juggling an electronic device is difficult in a crowded commute, a notebook for bits and pieces is great.
  • If you're an early riser, set aside some time to write before your day starts. Conversely, if you're a night owl, make some time when the house is quiet and the day is done.
Of course, there are many intersections of life that conflict with these suggestions and more, and this is okay, you have to portion out your energy, teaspoons and pain management as you see fit. Maybe you work long hours, maybe you have kids, maybe you have extended or elderly family to look after, maybe you're studying, maybe you live in a dangerous situation, maybe you have a chronic illness, maybe the physicality of writing is a barrier (I know visually impaired, carpal tunnel sufferers and disabled people who use voice to text and text reading software).

Don't let anyone tell you you're a failure at being a writer because your focus is on simply surviving. Perhaps the best you can do is carry a notebook to jot notes or to keep things in your head for a time when you can write, whether that's tomorrow, next week or next decade. If you want it bad enough, you'll figure out how to make it work for you. Just don't let anyone tell you no, not even yourself.

A ginger kitten rests its head on a keyboard, eyes closed
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