First of all, dear reader, an apology is in order. I always intended this blog to be updated at least once a week, preferably every couple of days. Sadly this has not been possible recently due to a whole heap of personal stuff that I won’t bore you with, but let’s just say that my normal writing routine has been ruined. I have failed already!
Is “real life” an acceptable excuse?
This, naturally, got me thinking about the impact that this brief hiatus was having on my own writing. I’ve currently got a novel (a World War 2 thriller called Kingmaker) away with my editor, and I have always been loath to start another novel project until the current one is complete. I’ve got a whole pile of story ideas practically screaming at me to get them out of the drawer, dust them down and give them the love and attention that they crave, a bit like Tribbles aboard the Starship Enterprise. So, unable to face the horrors of two novels inhabiting my already swamped cranium at the same time I have instead been working on a short story that I had hoped to have finished by now, but even that has stopped because life has simply got in the way of what I wanted to do. When – late at night – I have finally found the free time to write I simply lacked the energy and desire to try to be creative. My brain was well-and-truly fried. But is this just another excuse? Is this where so many writers fail, simply by lacking the dedication to succeed?
If you write I’m sure you have also experienced this quandary. It takes a HUGE effort of willpower to force yourself to write a best-selling novel when all you want to do is crash in front of the TV with the dog for half an hour then hit the mattress and try again tomorrow. This is especially true if, like me, you have children (but J.K.Rowling did it, so why can’t I? my conscience keeps telling me). I’m a single parent of two amazing kids, as well as looking after my dog and caring part-time for my wife (she is in a care home with dementia), and this week I’ve also been to the hospital with hearing problems, and then the car didn’t work… I want to write every minute of every day but this week it just didn’t happen. Even writers have other priorities. Life got in the way this week, and I’m okay about that.
A quick word about writing routines…
Let’s face it – we probably all imagine writing full-time every day in a book-lined study with amazing vistas, pounding away at the keyboard until our work is done for the day and we can pop-off to the pub for a well-earned pint. If only life was that easy ! Some people find having a writing routine easier than others, whilst most of us are left with forcing body and mind past our natural limits to write under far from perfect conditions.
We have all read how famous/successful writers like to get into a daily routine – Roald Dahl famously had a very rigid routine that clearly worked for him:
“He would eat breakfast in bed and open his post. At 10:30 a.m. he would walk through the garden to his writing hut and work until 12 p.m. when he went back to the house for lunch—typically, a gin and tonic followed by Norwegian prawns with mayonnaise and lettuce. At the end of every meal, Roald and his family had a chocolate bar chosen from a red plastic box. After a snooze, he would take a flask of tea back to the writing hut and work from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. He would be back at the house at exactly six o’ clock, ready for his dinner.”
Go on, you can say it. Lucky sod. I wish I could do that! Roald’s routine sounds like the ideal, but in reality we have to be more flexible. Many see having a rigid daily writing routine as a vital part of the creative process, but in reality it is generally only for those able to write full-time. For the rest of us mere mortals with families, careers and other responsibilities we just write when we have the time and energy. When I do get the rare luxury of being alone and having time to write I am usually at my best between 9 AM and lunchtime, but on my good days I can write all day if I have what I call the magic fizz in my head. My best ideas and dialogue often come late at night or when I am walking the dog.
NOT having a daily routine is not the ideal way to work, but it may be the ONLY way.
Was it REALLY wasted time?
Routine is nice, but the key thing is finding the time – any time – to sit down and write. This week sucked for me but next week will be better, even if I don’t get back into my ideal routine. Not writing at all this week felt lazy and slightly dirty but maybe it was the only way to stay sane. I have always believed that being flexible is a key part of an author’s skill-set. So before you lurch into the typical writer’s malaise of self-loathing, self-doubt and even questioning your own pathetically worthless existence you must STOP and gain some perspective. Maybe even having a break isn’t so bad after all.
- Was it REALLY a complete waste of time?
- Have you done anything else to help your writing career?
- Have you experienced anything that you can write about?
- Have you met any people that might help with future characterisations?
- Have you completed an onerous personal task that now frees up your time (and mental energy) to get back in the flow and write, write, write?
- Have you managed to sneak-in more reading into your busy schedule? As Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time toread, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
- Have you done any other vital research or concept development?
- Do you feel recharged and energised?
If the answer to any of these questions is YES then you have not wasted your time.
At the end of the day, in order to be a writer you must WRITE. You can’t use the excuse of “real life” every week. Sooner or later you are just going to have to sit down at your desk and write, and having a routine will help hugely with that – BUT NOT HAVING A ROUTINE DOESN’T STOP YOU WRITING!
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway
So now, instead of beating myself up for not writing, I like to think that this brief break hasn’t been the complete wash-out that I originally thought it was. I’m now recharged – supercharged, even – and ready to tackle the next BIG step of getting Kingmaker finished and published. I’ve just got to wait a few more days before my editor gets back to me then I’ll hit the ground running on Monday. Honest.