Sunday, 22 January 2017

Keeping on with keeping on, Ali Bacon pushes and pants her way through January

Long nights - good for the writing soul?
Apologies for some writerly introspection today, but in these darker months when there should be more  time to sit down and write, it’s somehow just as hard – or even harder -  to keep at it.

When I gave up full-time work and looked forward to ‘being a writer’ I envisaged a nice daily routine of, say, writing in the mornings and editing or dealing with submissions etc in the afternoons, with a reasonable number of days off /trips out for good behaviour. 

I suppose for some periods of time this has worked, but somewhere along the line I discovered that creativity and routine are not happy cohabitees, at least not in my brain, and at various points my ingrained Protestant Work Ethic has driven me not to new summits of achievement but to a grinding halt. I often wonder how I have managed to write two novels and more than enough words for a third when my ‘average daily wordcount’ (not that I often think of it that way) is ridiculously small.

Last week I felt a bit better when at our writers' group New Year celebration it turned out that even though our work/life circumstances are all very different, most of us have a similar problems: one member has twice thrown herself at nanowrimo but never done anything with the resulting word mountain; although we’ve all had families, only one of our number has ever risen at dawn in order to get writing in before family time; and everybody admitted to problems in converting the desire to write into sustained action.

Getting out and about
A year or two ago I made a point of taking up some new interests so I wouldn’t tie myself to the soul-destroying desk. So I spent less time writing and felt better for it. Then, this week, laid up with lurgy,  I cancelled other activities and committed myself to staying in and getting better. As the fog in my brain began to dissipate and I sat down to do some writing, I realised this was what I needed. By Tuesday I was on a roll. So maybe I was doing too many other things and just not giving myself enough time to write?  But on Wednesday I felt I really did need a change of air and company and ended up out all day. Today, eager to get back into harness, I suddenly find other things to do like writing this blog and dithering over a submission. I suspect even if I hadn’t taken yesterday ‘off’, the same would have occurred.

It’s occurred to me that I’m  a ‘push and pant’ writer, at least with bigger projects. Having completed one chunk of narrative – in first draft at least, I have to take myself a way for a while before I can get a handle on  the next bit and push it out.  So in a sense the writing floods and droughts always even themselves out and my productivity isn’t going to change too much, even when, as now, I have set myself a clear long-term target.   

I know there are tricks that help. Having more than one project on the go means there is somewhere else to go when one well runs dry and it’s usually when we’re not thinking about something that inspiration strikes. But it’s still a difficult balancing act between keeping at it and keeping sane, between having sufficient distraction from writing without becoming completely distracted.

I think I need to be more flexible in my approach to everything (will the world fall in if I miss my Zumba Gold?) but I suspect at the end of the day I'm just a writing light-weight. Or maybe I'm in the wrong 'job'! On the other hand there is the matter of a story to be told. 

So let me know if anyone has any advice on keeping on with keeping on.

3 comments:

Sandra Horn said...

No advice, Ali - just with you all the way! Waiting for inspiration to strike and time/energy to permit using it is how it is for me. Sometimes it feels unprofessional, but it's the best I can do - and the best is good enough.

Jenny Alexander said...

Routine is the death of creativity for me! At the thinking/planning/pondering stage I steer clear of my study and get out and about with my notepad, and take lots of naps - once I'm on the first draft, I tend to work round the clock at the computer, then when that's done I leave it to rest and take a spell away, pondering and planning the next project, before finally settling into a sensible 9-5 on the redrafting. It's more efficient for me to spend lots of time mooching around vaguely pondering before I start any actual writing because putting words on the screen is a quick process once you know what they need to be, and agonisingly slow and painful if you don't

AliB said...

Thanks, ladies. Apologies for not responding sooner as I took myself off for some escape/mooching time!