You know that scene in Love Actually where Jamie, Colin Firth’s character, goes on holiday and sits on an old jetty, under a wood gazebo and Aurelia, the beautiful housekeeper serves tea and sandwiches as he types away on an old typewriter filling page after page with words? That, I can tell you, is what writing is not. At least, not in the beginning.
If you've read Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, you will remember that he wrote with a typewriter on his knees when he lived in a trailer. That is a more accurate account of writing.
Now, I’m not saying move to a trailer, but we tend to think the circumstances have to be ideal to be able to write. Well, they are rarely going to be ideal. We think we have to wait for the muse to infuse our hearts, minds, and fingers before we can write. We think we can only start once we have an idea. We couldn’t put a word to paper if it hasn’t been perfectly plotted and planned. And, as Louis L’Amour said, 'The water doesn’t flow if the faucet isn’t turned on.'
We need to learn to write ‘on demand’. Anyone who has been paid to write will snigger now. When someone is waiting for an article you get it out. You don’t know how, but you make it work. You need to do the same with your writing.
I need to change gears when I start. I have to switch off the mommy, the writing teacher, the friend, the daughter, and the wife brain, and turn on the writer brain. I have to work hard to get out of those mind sets and my time is limited. I have to change gears quickly; I might grab 20 minutes here or jot down a few ideas in five minutes. Every day is different, but I've learnt to manage.
Here are the four ways I get my writing done:
- I keep my tools handy. I charge my computer every night and I take it with me wherever I go. If I am a few minutes early when I pick up my kids or while I wait for an appointment, I can spend those minutes writing. I always have a pen and notebook with me. If I run out of battery or if I can’t take out my computer, I use a notebook. I also hoard pens and have been known to write on the back of till slips. I’ve learnt to do away with hallowed, expensive notebooks and fancy pens.
- I have learnt to write anywhere. I write in my office. I write in my bed. I write in my car. I write on holiday at small tables in rental flats. I write in my tent when we go camping. I have hidden in a toilet stall to get a piece of writing done. I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. The waiters know me and indulge me with litres of lemon water and cappuccinos.
- Prompts save me every time. Nothing gets me writing faster than a prompt. I print out a list and keep it in my laptop bag. I write down the prompt of the day, set my timer on my phone and let rip. Once I have done that I can write anything.
- I set a daily word count. This is advice John Connolly gave us when we interviewed him. It seemed so obvious when he said it, but it has taken a load off. I always put myself under pressure to get as much writing done as possible. I never set a solid goal. I always want to do more. He said that we should choose a word count and stick to it. Once you have reached it, stop, close your computer and get on with your life. This has taken away the constant guilt of ‘I should be writing all the time’.
I hope this helps you to reach your writing goals.
by Mia Botha
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