I know I promised that I would be publishing poetry on Wednesdays, but that idea has recently hit a small snag… Turns out that many magazines and competitions categorise posting your work on a blog as ‘being published’ and since a frequent condition of submission or competition entry is that previously published work isn’t allowed, I’m in a bit of a bind! I won’t be posting much poetry, or short stories up here for a while as a result, since I’m trying to get more involved in submitting my work to magazines and entering competitions. Instead, today I’d like to talk about making yourself write.
Wednesdays are for writing.
The alliteration is pleasing. The words rolls off the tongue like buttercream… but the sentence is a lie. One of the greatest dangers we face as writers is pigeonholing ourselves – whether we are firmly wedded to what we write or when we write, or the exact conditions we require in order to write – we limit ourselves by refusing to stray from the chosen path. Don’t get me wrong: having a schedule and a routine for writing is important and helpful. It ensures that you dedicate a portion of time each day to working on your novel or your short story or your poetry portfolio, or your blog and it is a powerful tool you wield as a writer that sees you finish your chosen project. Routine and process should be commended.
The danger comes along when you have no flexibility to adapt to changes (life lesson there, some might argue).
The fact is, life rarely conforms to the boundaries that we place upon it: we have last-minute invitations, important (and unimportant) appointments, children to take to friend’s houses and soccer matches, chores that seem to keep piling up and never diminishing, training, work, kitchen disasters, relocations, deliveries, studying, friends, family, nemeses… The list is endless and unpredictable and, ofttimes I find that I can be more like flotsam on the current than a strongly-captained ship capable of weathering any storm. Life dictates that there are going to be days when you can’t sit down in your office for an hour and work solidly on your novel. Maybe the kids are on school holidays and they’re noisy as all hell and your time has been relentlessly chomped up by being a parent, or your relatives are visiting from inter-state and you can’t tear yourself away for a chunk of time to get through your next major scene. Maybe you require a balmy spring day and an ice-cold glass of lemonade to produce your best work and the thought of writing anything other than fantasy makes your stomach revolt.
Maybe you believe that Wednesdays are for Writing.
We make writing into this magical, mystical and otherworldly process that almost seems unachievable, elevating it on a pedestal so that it requires the right conditions, the right amount of time, the right genre, the right inspiration… and yet it seems like it never goes quite right. But the truth is, it’s not. It’s challenging, yes; it’s magical when it goes well, yes. But at the end of the day, writing is just something we do and we need to write: every day, for whatever time you can snatch, wherever you may be and however you may feel.
It’s not easy being a writer, but it’s a lot easier if you take the pressure off yourself. If you can accept that the perfect conditions don’t exist (or at least, occur very rarely), then you can let go of needing them to write and just let yourself go. I find that if I just make myself write, something will happen. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad, maybe it doesn’t contribute, but if I just put the pen to the page, something will come along and take me by surprise… That’s how I’ve written the first 30 000 words of my novel. Are they all good? Hells to the no, but they are there. They can be rewritten or removed or repositioned, but every moment I spent creating them was a moment given to myself to develop as a writer… and that is the crucial bit.
So, here are some ideas to help you mix it up:
- Move from your regular writing space to somewhere outside: maybe it’s your front porch, maybe it’s a local cafe, maybe it’s a nearby park. Spend ten minutes looking around you and observing the outdoor world, then find one thing that tickles your fancy and write about it for another ten minutes. It might be the heat when you’re away from the air-conditioning (thank you, Oklahoman summer!) or the stubborn patches of dirt in your front lawn that just won’t grow, or someone you see walking past, or the way children play so intently in the sandpit that you can’t help but wondering what is going on inside their minds.
- Take a break from your current project and try something completely new. If you’re a romance writer, try your hand at a horror short. If you’re a fantasy writer, try to write about the life and times of your next door neighbour; if you’re a man, try writing as a woman and if you’re young, try writing as someone who’s older. Branch out and put yourself out of your comfort zone. You may absolutely hate what you’ve written, you may like it, but more importantly, you’ll be continuing to test and adjust your skill set and flex your writing muscles so you have more depth in your chosen field.
- Set a timer for twenty minutes and free write. Once, I free wrote about the wood grain in a chest of drawers; it developed into a story idea about a set of doors that fascinated a young boy with an overactive imagination. It’s astonishing what your brain can come up with when you just let it run away with you.
- Find an object, person or place that interests you and ask yourself questions about it. What else could have happened here? Who else has touched this object before I saw it? Who is this person when they’re behind closed doors in their underwear? Investigate the world and in places where there are no answers to your questions: create them.
- Finally, let go. Allow yourself to be imperfect in what you produce. You can always rewrite, or delete, or emboss in gold later, but at least you’ll have something to make that decision about. And you never know just what you might find.