Thursday, 30 October 2014

The not-writing bits of a writer’s day - Lari Don

I love writing, but I can’t do it for long.

I do it in quick bursts (30 or 40 minutes is usually enough) then I need a break, partly to recover emotionally from the fight or chase or argument I’ve just written, partly to get up from the chair and keyboard to give my body a change of posture, and partly to give my brain time to consider solutions to the questions and problems that particular burst of writing has thrown up.

So on the rare and wonderful days when I have all day to write, I don’t spend all day writing. I do a variety of things to take a break, at least once an hour. And over the years, I’ve discovered things which REALLY don’t work as breaks from writing:

Logging on to my email or twitter or facebook or even lovely blogs like this, because I get involved in conversations then feel rude if I break them off to get back to writing, and anyway it doesn’t give me a break from the screen and keyboard.

Reading a novel, because if the novel is any good, 10 minutes isn’t enough, and I risk getting sucked into that world, forgetting the time, forgetting the book I’m trying to write…

Doing a bit of housework, which usually annoys me more than it relaxes or inspires me, so I do as little housework as possible (this is a life rule, not just a writing day one!)

So this month, I made a new resolution (why make them in January? October can be a new start too) and I’m trying to find other things to give me a quick mental and physical break, then send me back into the story refreshed and possibly even inspired. And so far, these have worked:
Reading poetry, short stories or collections of art and photos. Much less likely to suck me in than a novel, and also a chance to widen my reading. So I’ve started a shelf of books specifically chosen for glancing at for 10 minutes (and yes, that is a book of Joan Lennon’s poetry…)

Stitching or sewing something. I’ve dug out a cushion cover I started to design decades ago, and now I’m working on it in very small sections. Working with wool is so different from working with words, that it seems like the perfect break.

Baking bread or cooking. It’s not housework, but it still makes me feel domestically useful, and kneading bread is particularly satisfying.

Going for a run. This is the best way to clear my head, and to deal with the dangers of a sitting down job. But it only works once a day, and only when I can be bothered! 

Sight reading a few of my daughter’s scales / exercises / pieces on the piano. (Not particularly well, but with a bit of verve!)

I’m sure if did all of these (run, bake, sew, play music, read poetry…) in one day, I’d probably not write any words of my own at all. But having all of those options certainly beats hanging socks between chapters…

Lari Don is the award-winning author of 22 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers. 


Joan Lennon said...

Wow! What a great start to a day, seeing my and Kyla's book on your blog! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

Emma Barnes said...

You're right- especially about NOT using social media as any kind of break. I'm going to use this blog to kick start me into a new resolution too!

Penny Dolan said...

And among lots of wise words too, Joan!

Lari, that's an excellent observation about how easy it is to become unsettled by all kinds of suspended social media conversations. It's hard to close the door when so many people are saying interesting things and inspiring responses in your own head - and away from the writing.

As for poetry and images of art - they are definitely pleasures that help.

Anonymous said...

Now that I've picked myself off the floor at the thought of you ever taking a break, Lari...I like the concept and the idea that it's not indulgent to stop and do something else. My problem is finding something that won't then take over. I risk getting caught up in solving that last clue in the crossword, for example. And I don't find short stories a solution - good ones suck you in and take much more time to digest than their length might suggest. Maybe I just need to accept that I need longer breaks. But difficult to distinguish that need from procrastination... or is that just me?

Lari Don said...

Joan, it's a gorgeous book. One of the highlights of my day in Blairgowrie was reading your poetry on the way home. (For anyone who can't see the title in my amateur photo, it's called Her Lines, My Lines, and it's fab!)

Lari Don said...

Best of luck with the new resolution Emma - I still have to consciously remind myself to get up from the desk and move away from the screen, rather than just flicking to different windows... And you're right Penny about the formulating responses in your head after time on social media, and that can be distracting (even destructive) if you are trying to hear your characters' dialogue. And YES Carol, I do take breaks! (It's not my top skill, but I'm working on it...) And if you do need longer breaks, forgive yourself for it - I suppose you just have to make sure the break has an end and you get back to the story eventually!

Ann Turnbull said...

I'm so relieved to hear that I'm not the only writer who can't write for long periods! And if I do get a lot of writing done I often find I don't write at all the next day. Laundry is my usual break activity - prevents you from getting stiff, and especially good if the washing can be hung on the line, but that's rare, of course. I also walk for at least an hour nearly every afternoon. But I still think I ought to spend more time actually writing!