Tuesday 30 September 2014

How Not to Waste Time as a Writer

Using my Little Red Book
to organise  my time.

I can’t count the times that  promising writer says to me -

‘If only I had the time I could really focus on this novel/article/poem/short story.

A Weird Situation

For a writer the only answer to this dilemma is to take time, to take control of your time. In doing this you will create dedicated time for you to imagine and for you to write afresh.

Writing creatively is often viewed as an inchoate, random, uncontrollable act -weirdly beyond the writer’s control based on the notion that all writers are dreamers. How does this compare with the expressive arts? Contrast this frenzied image with an artist going into her or his studio or a musician turning up at her or his rehearsal room.

Contrast this also with the reputation of highly successful present day and earlier writers -  part of whose success is built on their ability to organise their time to ensure systematic daily, weekly and monthly blocks of time to devote purely to their imagining and their writing.

Perhaps to be so successful and productive, needs the quality of what the world calls ‘selfish’. (We need a new word for this quality …) I sometimes feel that – because of their cultural brainwashing - women writers are worse at this ‘selfish’ thing than male writers.

I have often said that making time to write creatively is ‘my first priority after the safety of my children – before the house, the table, the call of friends. And these days,  surfing the Internet, tweeting. Even blogging (Though I have to say that does have its creative element.)

I have become used to to the faintly judgemental looks when I make this statement. The disbelief or disapproval comes equally from men and women of my acquaintance. But still I get my head down and write my stories, my novels and articles.

My Theory Is Based On Blocks Of Time

These blocks of time evolved during the time I was teaching full time -  first in schools then in higher education and wrote and had accepted for publication several stories and three Young Adult Novels.

This Is How My Method Evolved.

 My life in school and then college was keyed around the academic year: three terms and three longish holidays. This gave me six blocks of time  to attend to my writing as an important part not just of my time but my of identity.           Of course my preparation and my teaching also had to be properly  planned in. My teaching  commitments trained me to focus intently on a major creative  task (teaching)  and meet  deadlines (for preparation and marking).
           During the holidays I would use these skills in the free-lance way to research and write first short stories then novels which were accepted for publication. And during term times I would work spasmodically on my creations, close editing prose and developing characters and listing, brainstorming new ideas for new ideas.
        After that when I moved into writing full time I knew how to make time to write and went on write a book a year for twenty years – not ‘churning them out’ but giving them special time and space in my life to ensure quality, credibility and qualitative development.

So I thought I’d share with you my idiosyncratic views on how to make proper time in your life for your writing.

(This is not a recipe for everyone but perhaps  aninvitation to look at your own time-control more objectively as a writer and develop it systematically and – most important – give it priority in your life – first after the safety of your household perhaps.)

First you need to consider your own creative approach

Look back and estimate the light and shade of your normal practice as a writer. Estimate when you are in  a good mood and in full flow, how much writing you can do in a morning, an afternoon, a day in the week. Grahame Greene did this and aimed for and achieved 800 words a day – about five thousand words a week.  This adds up.Work out how many days in a week you can make your writing your absoluter priority. This can be as little as one our two but if you build it into your life you will be surprised how productive you become. 

When – during ‘holidays’ or purposeful breaks you increase this to four or five days you have practices in place which will ensure that you go straight into creative mode. If you have it in you’re a fine novel will grow out of this process.

Here We Go!

Make dates with yourself to  write.

1.      Choose  a block of time

           - a week, a month or several months.

In this block of time draw a line through whole days (or mornings, or afternoons),  in your diary and scrawl Writing  right across it, just as you might do if you were away on holiday. NB By ‘writing’ I don’t mean sitting at a desk, emailing, internet surfing, blogging, catching up with phone calls. You can block other times in your day(s) for those things.

2.      Choose  a space.

Chooses a space or spaces where you regularly write – a particular room in your house, a carrel in the library, a deep chair in the loungs of a favourite hotel, a corner tabe=le in a café, a car parked on the moors. (I have chosen all these places in my time…) You need to have a dedicated space for a big project.        If you draft by hand this could be a big bound notebook and  a tray on a shelf that you take time when you want to work on. Or it could be the big notebook in a rucksack ready to take to the library/bar/café/hotel of your choice.         If you are transcribing and editing, or writing directly onto the screen then you should create a folder with the generic novel title. Inside the folder should be your main manuscript and perhaps relevant informational research files, query files and any correspondence to do with this project.Perhaps you could include (my favourite) inspirational images     Always save the story file with the last date you worked on it. (The date is the best code. Easy to lose track)          

       If you are working on the computer at home it may be difficult to cultivate your 'dome of silence.' (See Below …) If so, pop your laptop into your rucksack and  make for that library carrel. If no laptop, copy the folder to a USB stick, pop that in your pocket and make for the library or any other place where you can gain private access to a computer.

3.    Cultivate your Glass Dome of Silence.

Once you develop it this approach can work in even a crowded place. They key is to become blind and deaf to everyone who is around you. It is possible. I do it. When you get this skill,  by some magic it increases your focus on your story.

(This does not, however, work in a crowded family room – children, spouses crash through the glass with ease,). In your home you need a separate space ro raise your dome – smallest room, corner of a bedroom or bathroom  works quite well, If this is not possible get out of the house into the café/library etc.

4.   Keep a Little Red Book.

Well, mine’s red. Yours could be green, pink, blue….I would say avoid black, but I don’t know why I’m saying that.
         In the front of the book brief yourself to write that day. It might be finish the bit where Francine… Or The bit where the family car crashes. Or  They bury the body. Always small scenes which are accessible enough for you to fall into them to write and start writing. 

        At first your mind will wander to other things – necessary emails, phone callse,bits of research.. If this happens turn to the back of your little red book and list them. The write down a time at least four hours ahead when you will allow yourself to deal with them. In your little red book you can list research tasks that need doing, Necessary phone calls and emails, research.

Remember on your chosen writing days such things are not as important as your story. Give your story priority on your writing days. Such task should not count as ‘Writing time’. On other days you can tweet, tickle, lunch, surf to your heart’s content.

Try all this for a year.

However weird this is, you will be surprised how you fall into a fruitful writing  rhythm when you deliberately create the time and space  for your own creativity to blossom and develop into a fresh, original story which will satisfy yourself and your readers. Perhaps even agents and publishers even in this dire climate.

TO REMIND YOU . If you are a writer anxious to complete your novel , my book The Romancer might get you going again on the road to completion,.. In The Romancer you will find my much praised Forty Day Plan For Writing a Novel which is about you as a writer organising your time on a large scale.

Happy Writing!



Saturday 20 September 2014

Working and Playing in the Languedoc with no WiFi.

You may have noticed my two week absence on these pages. So sorry about that.

I went back to the Langudoc with A and D, my two favourite writers, for a work-play September break. The weather was stunningly hot. The woman in the stationary shop mentioned the ‘unseasonally hot weather’; the woman on the oyster stall said the same, adding ‘You should go to the beach!’ 
Cafe Writing

The hot weather ‘broke’ in the last few days and it was ‘only’ very warm in the morning and hot in the afternoon. On our last day, dragging our cases across the bridge over the River Hérault which, instead of its usual gleaming silver-green was now a churning brown, spitting trees and logs as it hurled itself towards the sea.
The River Hérault, still  in a silver state.
The big performance-pontoon had sheered away from the quayside and was bobbing about mid-river. The  Hérault  had burst its banks further upstream - a serious affair:  lives had been lost.

We all had plans for our stay.  A and D had their own reading, writing and planning  projects, My tasks were to mop up some last pieces of research for the final edit of my novel, Writing at the Maison Bleu; to read some more short fiction - Truman Capote, Edith Wharton, Henry James – in preparation for our October 25th Room To WriteWorkshop on The Novella; to write exploratory pieces towards my own new short fiction.

I also had a  plan to send  to you some ‘Postcards from Agde’ - to follow on from the ‘Postcards from Marseillan’ (scroll back) that I wrote for you in June.

This was not to be. We had quite elaborate plans to have WiFi Internet Access in our slice of a medieval house. For various reasons this didn’t materialise. We had to make do with WiFi facilities at the Melrose Café on the Quayside which was only intermittently available. In other years here we depended for the Internet on the WiFi facilities in  the library (The delightfully named Maison de Savoir). But to our chagrin this year it was closed for refurbishment.But to our chagrin this year the library was closed for refurbishment.

So –  our work/play break consisted if two weeks in the sun in dusty, atmospheric old Agde -  virtually without the Internet.

All I can say is that it was great. It was remarkably peaceful and fruitful – living and working in a kind of seclusion: no checking out, no Tweeting, for Facebooking, no emailing. There was a lot of writing, planning, talking and
thinking. And a lot of sitting in cafés, over café crème or Pastis, watching the comings and going in this busy little self-absorbed town.

A little bit of writer’s paradise, 

to  be truthful. 

On the plus side I did find two new fantastic book sources for my new novel -

Writing at the Maison Bleu.

Reading and Writing

On the minus side I really did miss writing my Postcards from Agde  just  for you. I would have written about :.

Autimn Fruits

Cooking and Writing 

A Reading Corner 

Windows in Strange Places

Wish you'd been there. Wx

Saturday 6 September 2014

Dubious Advice to Writers

My Response to Avril Joy's excellent post How Not to Write the Book That Makes You Millions – 2  www.avriljoy.com/

  1. Wendy says:
    Brava! Marvellous You have articulated here so powerfully what many of us feel. The truth is that we writers are the sometimes gullible consumers in this new industry of ‘advice to writers’. To follow the advice leads us down the road of writing a 21st Century brand of inferior pulp fiction to be sold like soap, rather than continuing on a quest to become better, deeper and stronger writers producing work to be proud of which might sell in tens or twenties or hundreds to discerning readers who are looking to be entertained, interested and – dare I say – enlightened, This is in the very best traditions of popular fiction since novels were first written for more widespread consumption.

  2. Look at, for instance, Daphne du Maurier, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Alice Hoffman, Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Mansfield  Alan Sillitoe, Scott Fitzerald, George Orwell, Sylvia Plath, Chinue Achebe, Edna O'Brien, Anne Tyler, Isabelle Allende , Pat Barker, Chung Chang and so on....

Wednesday 3 September 2014

In Praise of Good Teachers.

Good teachers can be loud, puffing, over the top, self-indulgent, vain, self-centred, didactic. They can be impulsive, rebellious - even at times bullying.

They can be intuitive, creative, empathetic, enabling, life-changing, unforgettable, graceful, intelligent, sometimes even intellectual and totally obsessed with their subjects.  
In the case of great teachers all these things are rolled up in one unique intense quixotic bundle.

Good teachers display some unique elements from this list. I hope during my 23 years of teaching I was one of these

I know that nowadays teachers need to be brave in the face of on-site texting, phoning and bullying, hidden knives and drugs, and sleepy over-wrought or over-hung pupils.

On top of this they have to endure befuddling paperwork and head-teachers wrapped up in some arcane business-model involving obsession with their public profile and their accountants' impossible bottom line, rather than the opportunity they have for changing the chances that society may offer their pupils.

Thankfully there are still good and great teachers around who, despite the drawbacks, are pulling off success after success in educating their pupils to change their own lives and the lives of others

At its worse this situation has led to a layer of rather robotic professionals who are rule- followers, ticking-box teachers, survivalist teachers, rather than teachers who synthesise the diverse teacher qualities described above.

For such despairing teachers the pupils and students are at the end of the queue for professional attention. And sadly the ethos of some schools today can drive these often talented, desperate people out of the profession altogether.

At heart I  don't feel sorry for teachers. After all, unlike the pupils, they are volunteers, not victims. I have to save my sympathy for the pupils who have only one stab at this education thing.

But teachers now have to survive in a culture of perpetual tinkering   I recognise that they have to operate in a profession whose architects are ideologically, not pedagogically driven   in a culture where politicians of every persuasion  see schools as a perpetual social laboratory.

All writers use their experience to inform their writing. So inevitably teachers, young and old have played their parts in my fiction.

Here are just two examples:

My novel  Children of the Storm  begins early, on the day  in 1914 when the Germans bombarded Hartlepool and a young teacher arrives at school to find it blown to smithereens and her headmaster dead in the central hall,

In my novel Cruelty Games  Rachel a very idealistic teacher meets Ian,  a charismatic former pupil who, twenty years before set, in train a series of terrible events which have affected Rachel for all of her life


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...