At our last Churchill Writers session, we started off talking about our perfect writing days, when the muse is our best friend and the writing flows like iced mojito down Papa Hemingway’s throat. Then, of course, chat turned to how we keep our writing going when things are not so good.
We came up with this list – feel free to add your own:
- Keeping a journal can limber up the writing muscles and clear the mind before you start on your novel. Liz Lochhead has described it as like skimming the murky top off a broth before it’s served. I keep a writing journal too and save it for chats with myself about where my writing is going at the minute, what I want out of it and what’s getting into the way. It gives my inner writer the space she needs to be important again.
- Congratulate yourself as much on good sessions of wool-gathering and writing exercises as on producing pages. It’s all needed.
- A trick I learned from journalism is to get a rough draft down, quickly, last thing before sleep if need be, so that you have something to work on next time. Anything is better than nothing.
- If you aim to write at a regular time each day or week, the writing begins to flow at that appointed time as if it has a special welcome.
- Targets (1000 words per day, or a chapter a day, for example) work for some people, less so for others.
- Going for long, leisurely walks alone, without (if you can) any thought of fitness or time, helps many writers. Charles Dickens walked huge distances, often through the night. It’s about letting your story and characters settle in the rhythm of your body while your eyes rest on the world around. Take some way of writing down stray thoughts, even if it means scribbling on the back of your hand. It’s not just about the desk. Beside Robert Graves’ beautiful writing room in Mallorca is this:
- Writing buddies. Arrange to meet a writing friend in your favourite café for an hour or so. Say hello, and then sit a good distance away from each other for your writing time. When your words are done, it’s time to have a good old natter together. This can be a happy way to have a regular writing slot but it’s important not to let the chat happen first, OK? #learnedthehardway
- Some days are fallow, don’t let them worry you. Just pick up again next time. In fact, life has tides, highs and lows, and it’s important not to punish yourself or get demoralised if writing is squeezed out by a crisis. Come back to it when you can.
- If you don’t have the chance to write for a while, try writing in short bursts of ten or twenty minutes. Forget about quality, let the writing energy take you wherever it likes. You can do this on the bus, in a café, anywhere, and it will remind you how much you can achieve, and how deep you can go, in just ten minutes.
- Reading good books and online links about the craft can bring you back into your sense of being a writer after a break away.
- Remember that, however much you procrastinate, and we all do, once you do give writing your time and attention, the words will come. Every time I used to sit down to write, I would spring off the chair to do something else apparently urgent, maybe about a dozen times. Once I realised that my home was not going to catch fire if I just sat there and wrote, I dubbed it ‘hot chair syndrome’ and recognised that it was part of my run-up to writing. And it went away! I love writing and always feel better if a day has writing in it, and I bet you do too.
- Keeping work in progress private is, for me, a crucial part of protecting the flow; having to show your workings every day to a well-meaning but critical family member can be death to your progress.
Keep it regular. Keep it to yourself. Keep it fun.
More on Sunday. In the meantime, happy scribbling!