Wednesday, 18 March 2015

What makes you write, or stops you? - Linda Strachan

This is not really about writers' block, although perhaps in some cases it could be, but I was thinking about how often I hear my writer friends talking about all the things that come between us and getting the words written.

How difficult can it be?  You love writing and you desperately want to write that story that is buzzing in your head but for some reason other things get in the way and it is the writing that is often pushed to the end of the queue.

In the comments on a blog here recently Susan Price said ' I think many people see authors as something like hobbits, living cosy, stress-free, comfortable lives making up fun little stories. And getting paid!'
I wish!

I recall, before I was published and even in the first few years, I was scribbling away or tapping on my laptop whenever there was a spare moment  -  weekends, holidays, late at night and first thing in the morning. Writing was new, shiny and stress-free with no obligations.  After a few years of tight deadlines and starting to write full time, an expansion of the things that come with being published and part of the writing community meant that I needed some time to recharge, to do other things because writing had become my job. So I was less likely to write at weekends or on holiday, or at least not all the time.

While thinking about writing this blog I did a quick mindmap of some of the things that help and hinder my writing.

Many things help, like having a deadline, that is the one that works best for me.  I have very rarely, if ever, missed a deadline, even if it means very late nights; working on holiday or pretty much anywhere I can.

Personally I find that self-imposed deadlines don't work so well for me unless I declare them to family or even better, to a small group of writing friends who truly understand.  I am part of a small, closed and trusted group, who only meet over email, for support and encouragement but also commiseration when things are not going so well. All professional writers, we help each other keep writing and it is a real lifeline for a solitary writer.

Looking at the mindmap above I see things I have missed out such as -
Meetings - I am on a couple of committees related to writing because I feel that it is important to give something back to the writing community for all the support I have had over the years, but these do take time and energy. Also meeting up with friends, particularly writing friends, for the 'office' chat which is essential for self employed and solitary workers to fine out what is going on, and to share ideas and enthusiasm. Meeting with publishers, agents, others who are offering potential sources of writing work.

Networking - going to book launches and get-togethers with other people in the business. It is  so important to keep up to date with what is going on around and for opportunities that arise from chance encounters.

Preparation - for talks, school visits and writing workshops.  This can take up a lot of time.

Social Media -  is a very mixed blessing. It can be very useful for making contacts, getting to know other writers and readers, but it is also incredibly time consuming and addictive.

Having a space to write, uncluttered, if at all possible, but if you are like me it soon becomes a clutter!
Having a special place to write, whether in a coffee shop, library or a shed, a space that helps close out the world and allows time to concentrate on that thing we love - writing.

I don't think I am alone in this, it is one of the reasons why writing retreats are so much of a writer's dream. Somewhere that family, responsibilities and other day to day things cannot get between you and the story.

I wrote Block as sometimes a story can halt, or feel that writing is just impossible and that is when we all need some time away, space to think and find out why we are not pushing on past it. The reason might be physical or emotional stress.

I find it is often that the story has lost its way, taken a wrong turn, or not being true to the characters.
Distraction, such as going for a walk or doing some routine task, when the mind can wander without pressure often allows for that 'light bulb moment' and opens the flow of thought again.  After that all we need is to make time for the writing!

What is it that makes you write, or stops you from writing?

Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children.
Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 


Joan Lennon said...

Fatigue's the killer - being used up.

Nick Green said...

Yikes! Mindmap alert! I hate mindmaps. I don't understand them. All I see is a jumble of words and lines.

Do people honestly extract any kind of sense or meaning from them?? I'm sure they must do, but to me it's gibberish. There must be something called mindmap dyslexia and I have an extreme case of it.

Sorry, off topic. But had to say it ;-)

As for what stops me writing - yup, everything. It would be a mindmap the size of Asia.

Emma Barnes said...

Great post, Linda. As you say, other tasks can actually be helpful if that's when the ideas come...the worst thing is when the distractions are not routine, but use up all your "headspace", I find.

Linda Strachan said...

Joan - I agree. Fatigue, stress and emotional trauma all make it so very difficult to write or find that creative energy.

Emma - you are so right, getting 'crowded out' in your own head makes ideas hide away in a dark corner!

Linda Strachan said...

Nick, I know what you mean. Other people's mindmaps are not as useful as your own, I find.

I use them sometimes when I want to throw down all sorts of ideas that are in my head but when a linear list is not useful as some thoughts lead to others and then spark of another strand.
Usually mine become a bit of an illegible scribble. I was being careful here!

Becca McCallum said...

Fear of it not being perfect. I write most when I'm confident enough to allow myself to write badly!

Denis Dvornikov said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Denis Dvornikov said...

It’s very nice to meet you here! Thanks for the post!
I have a very specific experience in writing. My main job is political speech writing. That means that eight (and more) hours a day I must write like some other person. I have to imitate thoughts and words order of another man. On one hand, it’s a good practice and also a very strong stimulus to impress myself in my own creativity. If you eat only vegetables all the week (month, year), than by the end of the diet you feel that you could chew up five beefsteaks at once. On the other hand, when my job is complete I have (as Joan Lennon said) yes, fatigue.
However, I believe that our brain is not as stupid as some people could think. The fatigue usually means that your writing has not been ripened yet or it’s just not ready. I feel (if a man can feel it) that my writing is like a milk in mom’s breast. Obviously particular quantity must be accumulated before suckle. But when it’s happened you can’t stop a leak.
My work (official speech writing) is not milk-friendly that’s why my imaginary baby is always hungry.

Linda Strachan said...

Becca I think that is true for many of us, the need to give ourselves permission to just write, at least that first draft, without the internal critic coming into play and stopping the creative flow. It is so much easier to edit and improve on it once there is something there to work with. That first draft has to be allowed to emerge, in whatever shape it chooses to appear, with the knowledge that it is just a rough gem waiting for the skill of the jeweller to shave away the dross and reveal what is underneath.

Linda Strachan said...

Hi Denis, thank you for your comment.
Your 'day job' sounds like a real exercise in becoming a different character - even if that character is a real person and not fictional. The other difference being that what you have to write (I imagine) will be dictated by others and not your imagination. A really interesting skill set to have.
I can also see how you must feel that pull to use your inner imaginative writing voice which has to be held back while you work.
I know that when writing to a very specific commission, although I enjoy the challenge, I always love to get back to allowing my own ideas to lead the way in my writing.

catdownunder said...

"I've got some work to do."
"You're always working, What are you doing right now?"
"All the usual things and I am writing a book as well."
"You're writing a book? What's it about?"
"It's a book for children."
"Oh, that's not important is it? And anyway it isn't work and it's not like you have had a book published or anything like that so you can do this."
"I don't want to do it!"
"But Cat..."
Need I say more?

Denis Dvornikov said...

Thank you very much for your reply, Linda!
You’re right and I definitely didn’t complain about the day-job. Moreover I’m glad that now I know a lot of different things. For instance, today I’m composing a text for agriculture conference and tomorrow I have to prepare a speech for a meeting with WWII veterans. In addition, there is such a good thing as deadlines. No chance to delay. It helps to be developed in time discipline.
I just wanted to think over your question about things, which make us stop in writing. 