Writing as a moving target

snail

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.

 

 

This day we write

this-day-we-write

Silk’s Post #127 — Last week, for the first time in our collective effort to blog our way to writerdom, four of the 5writers missed our posts. Ouch.

It’s time for me to step up to the booth and say my confession. Bless me, readers, for I have sinned. It’s been four weeks since my last blog post. I throw myself at your mercy. I’d welcome the chance to clear my conscience by saying 20 Hail Shakespeares. If it were only so easy!

But redemption doesn’t work that way for writers. 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.

Harsh, I know. The truth often is. And we sensitive creative people may wither in its presence. Or do the opposite: rebel, catch fire, grab the beast with two fists, bay at the moon.

Start writing again, just to prove nothing can stop us.

I sat down to write this post without having any clear idea of what I wanted, needed, to say. I just knew I had to explain to myself why I haven’t blogged in a month, or touched my manuscript in far longer than that.

My first stream of thought, unsurprisingly, was the litany of reasons why I’ve put off writing. As I enumerated and examined them in my head, disruptions that had been posing as perfectly good reasons were unmasked, one by one, and revealed to be mere excuses. Just a lot of blah blah blah.

And what I concluded was that none of that matters. The road to hell – to no one’s shock, I’m sure – really is paved with good intentions. No wonder it has so many potholes.

A few years ago at the Surrey International Writers Conference, we were treated to one of the most inspiring keynotes I’ve ever heard by bestselling author Robert Dugoni. It was his own becoming-a-writer story, and he told it like a song – or maybe a hymn – the narrative given power and energy with a repeated chorus: This Day We Write. SIWC has adopted the refrain, with Mr. Dugoni’s blessing, as its own mantra.

As T.S. Eliot famously said, “good writers borrow, great writers steal”, so I have no compunction about appropriating This Day We Write as my blog title. Repeating it, with appropriate devotion, is a penance that can save lapsed writers.

We need these rituals in our passion play.

Being a writer is, in a way, the simplest of jobs. You just write. You learn and develop craft with every word, every sentence, every book. There’s really no other secret to it.

The 5writers’ road to salvation will begin here. We’re planning a writing retreat, hopefully in June. The agenda is as simple as this vow: This Day We Write.

 

 

 

Surrey International Writer’s Conference – part 1

Joe’s post #115

surrey IWCThe day is finally here. SiWC 2014. I wish I could have attended all the days, but I couldn’t so chose to hit up one day in particular. Friday.

I had a mission.

Learn more about social media. Bug people about social media. Tweet something. Figure out if I actually tweeted something. Read someone else’s tweet. Say tweet 20 times.

Oh and have a bit of fun and learn something new from Don Maass.

My first thoughts of the day were, why did I have to have a crappy cold right now? My second thought was is everyone having as hard a time as me figuring out how writers use social media effectively? I mean, really, none of this should be hard, so is it just my age, my deteriorating brainage or is it really kinda complex?

Well, I had the right people to help me understand it. I’ll talk a bit about them in the next post, cuz, you know, I’m like that. In my novels, I’d call it a hook. Here, it’s just me being a bit of an asshat because I want to give everyone an idea of the SiWC experience.

So, yeah, for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t nervous at all. Nothing to pitch. No agents or editors to see. Just me learning and having some fun.

Having not registered ahead of time, I had to get in line to buy a day pass, a huge extra- large cup of Timmies in my hand. (Double-double, thank you very much). Day-passers are kinda like brussel sprouts at a turkey dinner – I’m not sure anyone really wants them. Case in point, we don’t get dinner.

Sigh.

I do like a good dinner.

IMG_6038[1]I got my high-tech name badge and fancy wrist band and marched off in search of a blue-pencil mentor.

For those who don’t know, the blue pencil meetings are a chance to sit down with someone who’s ‘been there and done that’, and made a living at it. Usually you bring a bit of writing and let them read it so they can help you better understand what’s working and what’s not. Sometimes you leave in tears, sometimes with great insights.

In my case, though, remember, social media focus. So I lucked out and found an opening with, oh, crap, almost gave it away. No, I’ll tell you tomorrow.

After signing up at the blue pencil, I went to listen to the opening keynote speech in the grand ballroom. With minutes to spare before the speech, I took a look at my thick-as-a-yearbook guide. It had a great title, the guide did.

This day we write!IMG_6037[1]

Which I love, but which was probably not exactly accurate for the day. Or the next 3 days. Maybe these 3 days we listen and then, THEN we write. Dammit! (I would have added the dammit for sure.) I’m honestly not sure anyone got a lot of writing done, but the idea still works.

I may put that sign on my dog to remind me what I have to do.

Anyway, if you’ve never been to SiWC, it’s quite the thing to walk into a ballroom filled with writers. The only odder thing might be a room filled with cosplayers or lion-taming tax accountants.

It’s a huge room filled with people, the vast majority women, who have gathered to learn more about writing, to discuss what they are working on, to connect with the writing community, and maybe even pitch a book or two to agents and editors.

Old, young, tall, short, hats, no hats, suits, shorts, t-shirts, glittering black blouses, sandals, high heels, tattoos… man, if you ever wanted to get some great characters for a book, you just have to go into that ballroom, but more than all of that, it’s a room full of people who say, proudly, I’m a writer.

I barely had time to look at the guide once before the event started. Having gone a few times before, one of the highlights in the morning is always Carol Monaghan.  (In the evening, it’s singing with the always Scottishly charming Jack Whyte.)

IMG_6018[1]Carol is just one of those people who lights up a room, someone who never seems to take herself to seriously and always finds something funny to talk about. She was in fine form today and started the conference with a laugh.

Then came the keynote speaker, a veteran agent named Peter Rubie, who was funny in the way only the English can be funny. He noted that the best stories are about people, not plot, that this is (and will always be) a subjective business (saying that some people love caviar, but he hates it, so no matter how great that caviar is, he’s not going to like it at all), and that procrastination and not actually writing can be successful ways of actually writing. Hey, I told you he was English, they think differently, but my takeaway from his speech was this…

He told us to ignore what everyone tells you about writing. Have fun. Write what you love to write.

I loved to hear that because my next project is likely going to be a pure labor of love.

So,  tomorrow, the whole social media smack down. Wow, did I ever learn some cooooool stuff.