Thursday, 1 November 2018


Today, the first day of November, is the start of NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.

I am not taking part but, after a badly distracted couple of months, I am writing my novel and am at that stage where I need to keep all the story-plates spinning in my head. This is very much a consequence of me being a pantser rather than an efficient note-it-all-down-first plotter - and now it also means that I need to make some good, deep writing time for myself.

Writing before dawn or long past midnight doesn’t work for me, either physically or socially, so I will have to grab my uninterrupted patch of time through better work habits at the start of each day. 

But how?
For a start, I might try stepping away from the news each morning. This feels an almost irrational thing to do when, day after day, more awful things that we need to know about are happening. On the other hand, the constantly-running news cycle creates a constant alertness and anxiety (and more) in me, and a level of adrenaline that feels quite the opposite of the quiet focus used during deep writing.

Consequently, should I avoid the news, at least until much, much later each day? Should I do the same for twitter with its continual cheeping of possibly interesting items? 

Working from home, I use neither as a diversion while commuting, nor in any office conversation context, so I could stop dipping into early-day news and social media during this month of writing work. 

Though that's hard when so much of the news is content one ought to know about - but does it make any difference if I don't know about it immediately or feel the emotions instantly?

How and what do you do about the onslaught of news? And how do you manage the need to know in your own creative life?

Early morning emails are less easy, especially when there are organisations involved. When people need answers or information. a quick response helps matters along - but do opening and answering really have to be my first tasks of the day? Especially when replies always take me longer to write than I expect?

Or, I wonder, do I open them to halt that slightly-lonely-at-my-desk feeling? Do I do it because they give me a glimpse of company and a wider world before I step away into a fictional setting? Maybe an afternoon blast would be less disruptive than logging in the first minute I’m sitting at my desk, no matter how out of touch I am feeling.
How and when do you manage your emails?
Do you have a set time when you open that particular e-box?
Or is it a continuing battle for you too?

And then, then, having turned away from all my media problems, I will be able to go straight - almost from my bed - into the work in progress.

Wait!  Or will I . . ?
What about all those various Writing Rituals people swear by? All those habits and daily practices I’ve heard about that people use at the start of their writing day? 

What should I go for? 
A long photogenic thinking walk, maybe with a borrowed dog for authenticity?
A set of stretches and yoga poses to keep the old joints in sound working order?
A toddle from a back door, out into the cosy writing shed perhaps? (Sigh)
A mooch round a beautiful, bountiful garden?
A moment to pull on my comfy writing jumper? (Other garments are available.)
A good thirty minutes of quiet mindfulness?
A lighting of a relaxing scented candle and the reading of a poem or two?
A synchronisation of mood to work-in-progress through some selected music?
A swim through some stream-of-consciousness morning pages?
A brisk writing exercise or two to warm up the writing muscle first?
The finding of and setting of a useful kitchen timer?
All or them?
Any of them?
And will the morning be gone by then . . . ?
Just try carrying a big comforting mug of coffee to the writing space,
shutting the door,
opening the needed page,
and starting on the work.
Oh, and having faith that the words will somehow do their work again?

Yes, that one, for sure.  I’ll let you know.

Have a good and productive November, ABBA readers, with or without NaNoWriMo.

 Penny Dolan


Joan Lennon said...

I ABSOLUTELY agree with just getting down to it first thing, coffee mug in hand. And yet here I am, first thing in the morning ...

I'm not Nano-ing myself but there is a Nano-er in the house who got home from a Nano party at 3:00 this morning. The point of the party was to, well, party, but also to get ahead on the word count for today. Which, because of the party, will be starting closer to noon than dawn.

It's going to be an interesting month!

Susan Price said...

Go for it, Penny! - scores of pantsers are waving their pants in the air, cheering you on.
I'm with Joan. You only have to do this for a month. Every morning: cup of coffee and a snack if very hungry. Straight into writing room in nightclothes. Set timer for an hour. Do nothing but write (and drink coffee and nibble snack) at least until the bell rings.

Then a proper breakfast, dress, perhaps a few light chores -- and then back for another timed hour. Write it every day in your diary, as a task. It's surprising how hard it is to skip something you've set yourself as a task.

Personally, I have no difficulty in ignoring emails. I struggle to open them, if anything. But you could set yourself another task: not to look at emails -- and headlines as well , if you like -- until after 5pm. Or 4pm. After all, the world is going to continue to go to hell, whether we know about it or not and there are very few emailers who are going to suffer if their reply is delayed for a day.

Very officious of me to give you such advice -- but I do find it useful when I need to get something written. It might work for you too. Good luck! We want that book written!

Sue Purkiss said...

I think you may be right about not looking at emails etc first thing. But... Hm. But you're definitely right about not wasting time on newsfeeds first thing. Yes!

Lynda Waterhouse said...

Great advice - no all I have to do is follow it.

Lynne Benton said...

Good luck, Penny! I may think of you at crack of dawn, going into your study armed only with cup of coffee and kitchen timer, and getting 1000 words (or thereabouts) down before breakfast and be super-impressed by your dedication. Or I may wake up and think "Penny's already been writing for an hour!" and berate myself for my own laziness. Alternatively I may consider emulating you... All power to both your elbows, anyway, for the whole of November!

Savita Kalhan said...

A great post, Penny! I struggle with all those things too. There are so many emails, news items, blogs, tweets and social media distractions, and the pressure of feeling that you might miss something unless you regularly check-in. But I have finally come to the conclusion that making that cup of tea first thing in the morning and shutting out the rest of the world is the only way that writing the new book might happen. Thank you for the reminder!

julia jones said...

Go to sleep the night before asking yourself what happens next? or WHY did that character act as they did? Then keep a laptop by the bed. No need to get up. just get vertical. and the earlier you make that 90degree move, the less likely anyone will already have emailed you ... good luck

Gwen Grant said...

It seems to me that writers are terribly hard on themselves. Why not just do the exact amount you can do and still feel good about it? As for the news, we all do what we can.
After that, there's not all that much we can do. Thinking of you.

Emma Barnes said...

My only advice is: get out of the house. I've just spent all morning mooching around at home (and yes, reading a lot of news) - finally took my lap top out to a different working space, and the writing began to flow.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks for all your thoughts and suggestions. I had a long, door-closed kind of day today and made some useful progress, including discovering a patch where parallel stories aren't progressing at the same time span. One of those things you half suspect but when you're busy within a section doesn't shout out loudly enough. Not for me to hear, anyhow, until now.

Penny Dolan said...

Emma, thanks for that very attractive suggestion too. There's certainly something very freeing about getting away from whatever it is at the desk that weighs on you.

I am hoping to try that out too, once I'm sure I'm into the story again and have straightened out some of the story path.

Penny Dolan said...

Still not quite got over the idea, Joan, of a NANO PARTY that keeps the writer out till 3 in the morning and then in bed late through the morning. Surely some mistake in there - or would be if it was me doing it? Though might have been fun!

Susan Price said...

Emma's right about getting out of the house too.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Penny this was an ABSOLUTELY brilliant blog! I've looked you up and its no wonder this is your 125th blog for ABBA!!!! You write it just as it is... out daily dilemma as a writer... what course to follow! Of course if you give up social media for November... as from now you can't see all the comments to your blog nor what any of us write on ABBA!