Write every day – that’s what we’re told, isn’t it? It’s the only way to cultivate good writing discipline, and train your mind to see every day as a writing day, no matter what.
Well, in order to hit a self-imposed target of 100,000 words written in the first half of 2016, I ended up writing 1000 words a day for the last ten days of June – and I absolutely hated it. I wrote a lot, that goes without saying; but was it worthwhile writing? I don’t think so. It turned the whole exercise into a burdensome chore and focused my mind purely on the number of words I was producing, rather on what kind of words they were.
So, I don’t have a standard writing day. Some days, I write; other days, I don’t. And that’s okay by me.
I do have a rough schedule for my writing week, though, and the extra space provided by broadening my timeframe out to a week makes all the difference in my enjoyment of the process. On top of that, I think I produce better work that way.
There’s a weekly writing competition, called Hour of Writes, that I’ve taken part in every single week since it launched in December 2014 (with multiple wins and second places to my name), so my writing week starts with the prompt for that landing in my inbox on a Monday morning. I invariably find myself looking at the three words for that week and thinking there’s no way I’ll ever come up with something to match them, so I very rarely think seriously about my entry on a Monday. However, past experience tells me my initial reaction has always been wrong. So, I set those three tantalising words into the back of my mind, knowing they will somehow be turned into a short story or poem by the end of Friday. The germ of an idea usually creeps into my thoughts sometime around Wednesday afternoon, and I most often write and submit my entry on a Thursday.
This is what I call the percolation technique. Whenever I’m having trouble with a story, or I’m just not coming up with anything interesting, I consciously tuck the issue or theme into a particular place in my brain and then pretend to ignore it. Generally speaking, a few days later – usually at 3am or when I’m in the shower – the answer to the problem, or a new and exciting idea, will randomly pop into my head and I’ll be off. The subconscious mind is an excellent tool, if you can train it even just a little bit. Though the 3am wake-up calls demonstrate that ‘training’ is perhaps a little optimistic in my case!
Lunch hours will sometimes produce pockets of concerted writing time throughout the week. That’s when I generally work on short stories for submission to themed anthologies, or other competitions.
I’m very lucky, in that I only work four days a week. When I proposed this arrangement to my husband, he was fully supportive, with the proviso that I use my extra day off to work on my novel. Eighteen months on, I think he must have forgotten this condition, since he hasn’t asked about my progress in quite some time, and I rarely get any writing done at all on a Monday. However, since I do tend to complete household chores, essential shopping, and tedious life admin on that glorious day away from the office, I think it does contribute to the time I spend on the novel – since it frees up more of Saturday and Sunday for just that purpose.
The weekend will often see me repairing to the local library, or treating myself to a snack in a comfy cafe, with my trusty tablet in tow. This is because I find it almost impossible to focus on my writing when I’m at home; there are far too many things to distract me. Taking myself away somewhere to concentrate solely on my writing is the best possible way for me to get the words on the page, even if I can usually only stomach it for 90 minutes at a time.
I do have certain rituals associated with my writing. I like there to be a pot of aromatic herbal tea at my elbow, and I have certain albums of music that are almost guaranteed to get me in the writing mood. If I’m at home, my habitual corner of the sofa calls me, and I settle down with all my paraphernalia. First, the patterned cushion goes on the knees. Then, the hardback A4 notebook is balanced on top. That provides a mostly stable platform for my little tablet, which masquerades as a laptop in its faux leather case, alongside its bluetooth keyboard. My osteopath may not agree, but this layered positioning provides me with my best writing pose.
I don’t like to tie myself to places and objects in order to get my writing done, though. What if I’m out and about when an idea strikes? Or what if there’s an unexpected delay in my day, which provides me with a narrow window to get some words down? I like to think I’m quite good at taking advantage of spontaneous writing opportunities when they arise, and I can churn out 750 words in half an hour when the stars are in alignment.
I often find that short bursts of intense creativity produce my best work, and I admit to resting on my laurels after only a few hundred words on most occasions. Dedicated to my craft, I am not – I have proven to myself time and again that I can write a whole lot more than I generally do. But, as I’m not trying to make a living from it (yet), I prefer it to remain an enjoyable hobby than become a dreaded chore, so I usually let myself off the hook and only write when the mood strikes.
What really boosts my word count, though, is the rare occasion when I get to take a really long train journey. Headphones in, rock music blaring, the enforced isolation from the everyday activities of life is what really gets my muse excited. I’m really looking forward to a five-day writing retreat I’ve booked near Inverness in December, but I think I’ll get most of my writing done on the eight hour train journey up there. Perhaps I should move further out of London, so I can lengthen my commute. That might just be the change I need to start writing every day.