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.



Juggling all the Jingle Balls

Maui Jingle ball

Paula’s Post #15 – When we started out on this journey on September 5th, 2012, I never would have imagined that I would draw December 25th, 2012, – Christmas Day, – for my weekly blog post. Nor would I have imagined that I would spend this evening, Christmas Eve, pounding out this little post on my Mac, while It’s a Vey Merry Muppet’s Christmas Movie rolled in the background, entertaining one very special two-year old, my little baby grand-daughter.

But then again, life doesn’t always turn out quite how we expect, and our stories shouldn’t either.

Last week, Joe posted that he had completed the first draft of his novel. Joe posted that he was now going to take a couple of weeks off, enjoy Christmas, and worry about the rewrites in January. Joe posted he had 360 pages.

In the vault.


By last week, I had maybe a third of Joe’s output. Somewhere around 130 pages. I wrote a little comment on Joe’s post, something about being green with envy, (coincidentally, the same colour of the star of tonight’s little dramatic production, one Kermit the Frog).


Joe’s post just brought home to me what I already knew: I’m playing ‘catch up’ and will be doing so until the end of this crazy journey. My goal not a polished third draft but a ragged, race-to-the-finish first draft.

I suspect I may not be alone in surging forward towards this more modest goal.

I suspect that, like many others, my schedule for this Christmas season will be unpredictable, just as it’s been for most of this 5writers journey.

My life’s just like that, and Christmas is no exception.

Christmas in our world is the most hectic time of all. Maybe your family is like mine: a blended family with kids and grandkids all over Canada and North America. Arranging Christmas is like playing poker and where the chips fall is just luck of the draw. This year, we drew into a Royal Flush. We have the joy of sharing the week before and the week after Christmas with two of our three baby grandchildren.

Two weeks of toddlers, 24/7, as the saying goes.

Hardly conducive to writing, with most of each day dictated by the play time, meal time and nap time of toddlers (which is pretty much all of the time, or so I’m discovering in my own, naive, ‘straight-to-grandchildren’ kind of way).

So my writing time this Christmas will be confined to a few stolen moments. I’ll be juggling all the Jingle Balls just to find the time to whip off a page or two each day. I’m trying to write at night, but most nights, I find myself nodding off at the keyboard, after just a few minutes. (A special salute to all the young mothers and fathers out there who somehow manage to raise children and pursue a writing career at the same time).

This week, unlike Joe, I’m posting that I’ve NOT completed the first draft of my novel.

But like Joe, I’m also happy to report that I am (mostly) taking a couple of weeks off to enjoy Christmas with my family. I’ll worry about the ‘and then what happened’ in the New Year, when the kids and grandkids have all gone home and it’s quiet again.

Joe’s right.

Spending time with family and friends over the holidays is more important than writing, even if the clock is ticking on this 5writers challenge. Just my opinion, but I feel that if you don’t think that way too, then maybe writing isn’t the best career choice for you. But that’s up to you to decide.

Right now, I have to cut this post short. Nana has cookies and milk to put out for Santa, and some carrots,, broccoli and pineapple (don’t ask) for Santa’s reindeer. I’m feeling pretty peaceful tonight, the tragic headlines of the last few weeks, the turmoil in the Middle East and the uncertainties of the ‘fiscal cliff’ seem very, very far away this evening.

I’m thankful for that.

I wish all a joyous holiday season and a very, very Happy New Year. I’ll check back with you then, since I’m pretty sure my next post day falls on New Year’s Day.

PS – The ‘reveal’ this week:

Words Written to Date: 42,665

Target Word Count: 100,000

Words short of Target: 57,335

Pages Written to Date: 153

Target Page Count: 400

Pages Short of Target: 247

Pie’s eaten (and to be eaten) this week – Many. I hope 🙂