Tag Archives: writing advice

the importance of play

IMG_2686The past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing and writing. Sure, I’ve wasted time here and there, but I’ve also worked at my desk for hours.

Except, what I’ve written has been awful. Flat, uninspired, dull. I revised 3 stories in the past ten days and became thoroughly sick of each piece. Not because they were finished, either. They were just so terrible I couldn’t stand to read another word.

So I’ve been feeling sorry for myself and bemoaning my uselessness and wondering for the zillionth time why I thought I had any aptitude for this. And then last night something occurred to me.

Maybe doggedness can be a bad thing.

I’m not saying I’m about to give up, or that I don’t believe in hard work. But I realised that lately, my approach has been all wrong. It’s joyless. I’m showing up at my desk as if I’m sitting an exam. I’m not getting outside enough, not walking enough. I’m thinking about where I’ll submit a story before it’s even finished, instead of losing myself in the tale I’ve created. I’m as playful as a back brace.

I know writing isn’t all fun and games. I know it involves hard work, showing up, putting the words together. But surely that can still be done with a sense of fun, with an attitude that brings a lightness of spirit, creating prose that sparks and surprises.

Maybe my defensiveness over hearing criticism of ‘earnest’ writing was not just because I write emotionally, but because I sensed I was writing without enough playfulness in my heart. Which is not to say that story content should be always be humorous – just that the approach shouldn’t be so stompy.

Maybe I’ve had my gumboots on when I needed to skip around in a pair of sandals.

Or even barefoot, across the grass.

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How to Write – a manual for distractible writers

Step 1. Check email, in case you have won some nationwide competition or had a world-renowned journal accept one of your stories.

Step 2. Check Facebook. There could be a writing opportunity on a page you’ve liked. Or a cute puppy video.

Step 3. Check Twitter. You may hear some interesting news that prompts you to write a brilliant new piece of fiction. Or creative non-fiction. Or a cool sort of limerick.

Step 4. Check Instagram. You may get good ideas for a snack.

Step 5. Get a snack. And a drink while you’re at it.

Step 6. Sit back down. Open your document. Yes, just go to the toilet. Be quick.

Step 7. Write. Stay there. Do not access the internet, ring people or text people. Write.

Step 8. Briefly congratulate self. You’re writing!

Step 9. Keep writing.

 

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Work it, baby

This is not a post about high intensity interval training. I walk the dog and take the odd yoga class, but I’m no fitness guru. In fact, I’m not a guru of anything. However, my friend Jen* has achieved guru status in my eyes.

I met with her this morning for coffee and a catch-up. We talked about books we’d read, our own writing progress, our ‘day jobs’, our kids. And then we hit the topic of procrastination. Otherwise known as The Writers Curse. We both admitted that the internet is a distraction, and I bemoaned my tendency to avoid writing by doing household chores, snacking, phoning people and patting the dog. (I claim to love writing, but I think the truth is I mostly love having written. Sure, I love writing when the words are flowing thick and fast, but honestly, that’s pretty rare. Often it’s a hard, bloody slog. So what I really enjoy is when I’m done.)

When I’d finished complaining, Jen looked at me with her clear, steady eyes and said, “What I do is put a timer on. For thirty minutes, I have to sit there and work. I can’t get up and do anything else. Then, when I’m done, I set the timer for a ten minute break.”

How fantastic is that? None of this ‘I’ll work till midday now’ when it’s only nine a.m. and within five minutes you’ve checked email, followed a link and are reading about dogs who sense seizures. Oh no, you only commit to thirty minutes of work. An achievable goal. A sweet, approachable, friendly sort of goal.

I tried this plan today, and guess what? Over the two hours available to me, I did three 30/10 sessions, which is (embarrassingly) waaaay more than I’ve been getting done lately. I was focussed and calm. There was no other option but to write, yet I knew I’d get a break in a matter of minutes.

I suppose the 30/10 approach is nothing new, but I hadn’t thought to apply it to writing. So if, like me, you find yourself faffing when you want to be writing, it might be worth a try. And Jen, if you happen to read this before I tell you in person … thank you, thank you, thank you!

*Name changed to protect the guru.

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comfort for writers

If you haven’t yet read The Writer’s Room, a series of interviews with well-known Australian writers by Charlotte Wood, I can highly recommend it. I seem to be one of the last to the party here, as other writing friends have been reading these interviews in an e-magazine, and telling me how inspiring they are, for ages. But for whatever reason, I hadn’t read these amazing interviews until I bought the book (released August 2016).

If you procrastinate terribly, you’ll read about other writers who do, too. If you doubt yourself constantly, you’ll find authors who feel just the same. If you’d like a sneak peek into how published writers go about their work – the actual nitty gritties of when they start, when they stop, how much cake they eat (okay I made that part up) – it’s all here.

If you want to read more, here’s an interview that Charlotte Wood gave about how the insights she gained changed her approach to writing her most recent book, The Natural Way of Things, at this link.

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