Writing as a moving target


Silk’s Post #129 — There’s a time and place for writing. But getting the time, the place and the motivation all in synch so the words practically jump onto the page by themselves … well, that’s the trick, isn’t it? We all feel daunted at times.

 The Place

The colourful image of the solitary writer holed up in his creative domain has evolved from the bearded scribe dipping his quill by candlelight, to the whiskey-drinking novelist hunched over his Remington typewriter in a smoky garrett, to the cyberspace dweller keyboarding prose at a nighttime inner city kitchen table.

Their lairs all share one thing in common: each is a private comfort-zone, a retreat apart from the distractions and vagaries of the world. A stillpoint.

There’s plenty of advice to would-be writers on how to set up their own distraction-free writer’s space with the objective of becoming focused, organized and happily productive. Chuck Wendig recently wrote a great blog post from his own purpose-built writing spot, which he calls The Mystery Shed, extolling the virtues of creative writing habitats. I would put money on the probability that most professional, full-time writers do the majority of their writing in their own comfort-zone workspaces. 

The Time

The next challenge is clearing space in your calendar to get your butt in the chair and get to work. This, too, is all within the writer’s control. Let’s face it: it’s all about choices. Even the busiest person can find time to write if she truly wants to, even if it’s not every day, or not in long blocks, or has to be scheduled very late at night or very early in the morning.

The 5writers have probably written more about finding time to write than any other single topic (or, more accurately, about not finding time). So, obviously, it’s not always easy to integrate a productive writing schedule into a busy life.

It really comes down to priorities.

If you read my recent post, This day we write, and the 5writers debate it sparked, you may have found my inner pep talk as a lapsed writer to be a little bit hard-assed …

As much as I cherish that writing flame within, being a devout, practicing writer really requires only one thing. And it requires it absolutely, as an article of faith.

You must write.

Even if it’s shit. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if your life is full of good, or bad, distractions. Even if you question your calling and are struggling to believe in yourself. Even if you’re overcommitted and all your time is spoken for. Even if you’re bored or uninspired. Even if your routine is disrupted. Even if you’re so consumed with guilt about your lack of productivity that you’ve gone into avoidance mode. Even if you’re too stressed, or too sad, or too worried, or too tired to care. Even if you’re consumed by some other seductive passion that demands your attention. Even if you fear your words have left you.

You must write anyway.

Or forget being a writer. Do something else. Find another route to spiritual, emotional, intellectual fulfillment.

My premise is simply that “writer” is a self-defining title: if you don’t write, you’re not a writer. But I didn’t mean to suggest that a writer must write constantly, or every day, or with complete disregard to the other circumstances in her life. I’m a realist, not a sadist!

The Choice

Everyone has demands on their time: job, family, household, health, financial or other life necessities that simply have to be attended to. We get to make lifestyle choices like whether to have kids, how many cars or houses or other stuff we own, and what (if not writing) we do to make ends meet. These choices (along with whatever kind of luck we’re having at the moment) dictate how much time our non-discretionary responsibilities will gobble up in our lives.

But whatever discretionary time we have left over – whether that’s a little or a lot, whether it occurs daily or irregularly – we get to choose how to spend it. It’s in our control.

The Moving Target

There are two notable kinds of disruptions are not in our control: motion and emotion. These can be managed but, in many cases, not avoided.

By “motion” I mean not only travel, but anything that moves you away from your comfy writer’s workspace.

We live in a mobile world. Unless you’re a hermit, you’re going to find yourself physically on the move for short or long periods, for all sorts of reasons. Attending your kid’s hockey practice. Vacationing in Tonga. Attending an out-of-town conference. Going to the laundromat. Visiting family. And you can’t just stop writing every time you’re temporarily uprooted from your favourite desk.

Some writers can focus in the middle of chaos, are able to wrap themselves in their own portable comfort-zones and concentrate on their work, oblivious to distractions. Mothers who learn to write on a park bench to the sound of playground shrieks. Urban bards who like to scribble at a crowded coffee house or nightclub. Travellers, like Paula, who love to take advantage of remnant time spent waiting in airport lounges. (Check out her excellent advice about Writing on the road.) Nomads by choice, like Alison and Don, who are adept at making themselves “at home” in new landscapes and cultures. (Their guest post on Finding time to write is a great read for inspiration.)

For the rest of us, writing while away from our home base – often with little control over our schedule, or the outside demands and distractions we encounter on the road – is a challenge.

I’m doing it right now, at my best friend’s kitchen table 3,000 miles from home, while the rest of the household sleeps (including the snoring yellow lab at my feet, my pal Brady). It’s exactly midnight here in Boston, and the first real chance in a week I’ve had to sit by myself and concentrate on the 5writers blog.

Thus, my Monday post has become a Friday post … a moving target, finally hit.

Writing on a Rollercoaster

The original meaning of “emotion” back in the early 17th century was “a (social) moving, stirring, agitation” from the Old French emouvoir (stir up), which derived from the Latin emovere (move out, remove, agitate).

There’s no doubt that an emotional disruption to “normal” life can transport a writer far outside his comfort zone – even while his body remains planted in his usual chair. When change or stress overwhelms normal routines, the mind often can’t “settle”; creativity, inspiration and motivation can become elusive.

When “life happens” it may cast a shadow, or shine a blinding light. Either way, it can play havoc with a writer’s equilibrium. What might at first seem like forward progress can turn out, on second reading, to have been spinning in circles.

But that’s what second drafts are for. And sometimes, when the ground is shifting beneath your feet, the act of writing is the lifeline that anchors you, the balm that heals.

This Day We Write Anyway

Though writing can be a journey full of starts and stops – sometimes slowing to a frustrating crawl, other times speeding ahead at a dizzying pace – one thing that’s sure is this: the journey will end in limbo if we stop writing and sit still too long.

Writing wants a rhythm, even if it’s an irregular one, and it’s hard to get going again from a standing start.

Maybe “this day” is not the day we write. Maybe it’s tomorrow, or next week. Even a snail gets where it needs to go eventually (or there wouldn’t be any snails left).

But every single day that we get words on paper “anyway” – no matter the hurdles – is a great day to be a writer.



We may delay, but time will not

Helga’s Post # 97:  So said Benjamin Franklin, as if to remind us we have scant time left to get organized for Christmas. To make it worse, here at Canada’s west coast, we are battered by storms and daily rain warnings as if to punish late shoppers fighting their way through throngs of fellow shopping-procrastinators. An ugly scene at best in my part of the world as you can see, especially if you have to be out and about.IMG_1230

For those of us who have been better organized and shopped early, or better yet, let their fingers do the shopping with on-line orders and gift-certificates, or best yet, have resolved to forego gift-giving altogether and donate to charities in the name of family members depending on what matters most to them. So here is what I might do: My granddaughter loves dogs (as do I). Instead of buying her ‘stuff’, perhaps I will donate to the SPCA in her name. My son will find a thank-you letter and receipt for a donation to the Food Bank (he is a chef by profession). Just a thought. Of course, with a nod to tradition, there will still be a few ‘real’ gifts under the tree but it will send the message that Christmas is about giving, not getting.

One thing is for sure: I refuse to line up at the malls for those few ‘real’ gifts. Time is too precious. Rather, a click on Chapters’ website checkout button is so much easier and efficient. Books to be delivered directly to a recipient, gift-wrapped if I am in a generous mood.

And shopping from home frees up time for more meaningful projects. The gift of ‘time’ is one of the 10 gifts for writers if you followed Paula’s last post. Time is No. 7 on her list to be precise. For me, it’s Number One, hands down. No surprise there as anyone of a certain age can attest to, or when health issues suddenly put ‘time’ into sharper focus. For all these reasons lineups at busy cash registers are not on my pre-Christmas to-do list. Not this year. Not next year either if I can help it.

What IS on my to-do list however is writing. Not exactly a revelation given that I am a self-proclaimed writer. While the last few months have put a huge dent into my resolution for daily writing, I commit to pick it up again. It has been far too long since I actually wrote a chapter of my new novel. Here is the good news: I have done a lot of plot outlining and character development. Sadly, the result of all this work is not residing on my hard drive, but in the recesses of my brain.

So, the challenge for me is to retrieve my virtual manuscript from its cluttered storage and save it from vanishing into thin air. Meaning, get the darn thing on to my MacBook and stop messing about in my head.

Easier said than done. Time is only one ingredient to make real writing – the type you can share with other humans – happen. Frame of mind is another. Crawling out from under a dark cloud of fear when illness strikes a loved one leaves scant room for the mind to go elsewhere. But when a tiny patch of blue appears, voila, things start to look quite different – in a good sort of way.

While the last many weeks have yielded little opportunity for productive actual writing (not the brain-only kind), I feel the writer’s itch (sort of the opposite of writers’ block) starting to demand attention. A tiny voice to be sure, begging to be heard, but it’s stirring nonetheless. It started with – what else? – my main character and main secondary character. I feel as if I know them well by now, as if they are members of my inner circle of acquaintances. Not directly – some of their attributes are conveyed to me via third parties, but their shape becomes clearer by the day and week.

My objective over the holidays, which will be a quiet season this year, is to carve out some serious writing time. To try and make up for the rollercoaster non-productive time that kept me from doing what I love most. Having moved to a condo from a big house also frees time. Lots of it in fact. An added bonus is our vast view over the mighty Fraser River, which seems to have a positive impact on my writing. It feeds my imagination. As Silk reminds us in her last post, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview for life’s coming attractions.” — Albert Einstein. IMG_1176

Achievements since last post:

Books read: One (in progress). Will Ferguson’s excellent novel ‘419’. Entertaining, plus lots of ideas for my new novel.

Pages written: 0.5 (Opening paragraphs of opening scene)

Chapters planned (in head): at least 4

Early Christmas gift received: iPad Air 2 – an awesome gadget

Early home improvement gift: Nespresso machine. Best coffee ever (Starbucks eat your heart out)

Early best Christmas gift: Hope –at the minimum, guarded optimism

I am a writer of fiction. I have to believe that sometimes miracles do happen.

To all you writers out there, Happy Holidays!IMG_1237