Writing through crazy times.
I hear from a lot of people who claim that they can’t write unless ‘the mood is right,’ or unless ‘the Muse smiles on them.’ Not a good situation to be in… and what’s more, it’s largely psychosomatic. Just because you like to write when things are calm and quiet and you’re feeling inspired doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of writing when things are hectic and crazy. And in the interests of variety and just being more prolific (never a bad thing), we should all learn to write even when we don’t feel like it. But how? Here are some tips…
1. Be willing to change your habits.
In all the ‘how to write well’ books, you’re told to set up a strict routine and stick to it — I’ve heard “write for two hours every morning” reeled off many a time, for example. I’m not doing these practices down — getting into a writing routine is definitely a good idea, but it can also get you into a rut. Hauling yourself out of bed when you know you have to sit right down and write for two hours can turn writing into something you resent, and it can also leave you feeling like you can’t write at other times of day or in other situations where the conditions are perhaps not exactly the same. If things get hectic and you find that your writing is taking a back seat, change your routine. Try writing at the opposite end of the day, allocate yourself a small amount of time (say, your lunch break) and see what you can get down on paper, or think of the time you’d least want to spend writing (on the bus with everyone looking over your shoulder, maybe?), and force yourself to try it. This doesn’t just give writing a different importance within your day, it can also make a difference to the words that are formed. A piece written late at night when you’re used to writing first thing in the morning will probably be radically different to your usual. Try it and see what happens.
2. Don’t censor.
When things are calm and collected and we have the time and the right conditions, writing comes more easily, we think. Poems come out better formed and need less editing, sentences are more original. True? Maybe, but probably not. When everything feels ‘right,’ we’re just more relaxed and willing to go with the flow, whereas when things are hectic and the setting isn’t 100% ideal for writing, we’re more on edge, and our internal censor’s voice seems far louder. So if you’re sitting down to write in the midst of a crazy patch, you’re going to have to force yourself to ignore that annoying voice. Yes, you’ll probably sit thinking “this is all going to be rubbish because I never normally write at this time of day and I know I’m going to get distracted” or “I have too many other things on my plate to be sitting writing”, but tough — push those thoughts to one side. The writing you produce when you’re stressed or busy will be different to the writing you produce when you’re calm and relaxed, but it won’t necessarily be any worse… that’s just a myth you’ve created for yourself. So no matter what your inner censor says, resist screwing up your piece of paper and chucking it in the bin. No matter how you feel about the material that emerges, hide it away somewhere and come back to it later to see how it measures up. You might be surprised by how much it seems to have improved while it’s been in storage…
3. Don’t feel guilty.
Crazy times come in all different shapes and sizes — you might just be stressing about a task you’ve been putting off, or you might be going through a massive house-move. Either way, if you’re a writer, you should not let your work fall by the wayside, no matter how mad the situation. If you need half an hour’s study-break to write a poem, or a couple of hours off from boxing up your posessions to scribble something down, just do it. Feeling guilty about the other stuff you should be doing is counterproductive — because what you should be doing is writing. It’s not like you’re sneaking off to watch some tacky TV soap or something — your writing is a perfectly worthwhile activity… possibly more worthwhile than the stuff you feel guilty about not doing! Too many writers see their writing as something that just has to be squeezed in around the rest of their lives, only getting a spare five minutes’ attention when there’s nothing more important to be done. This could be most important thing of all, you lot! No guilt allowed!
4. Take extra care.
OK, when things around you are crazy, chances are you will also be a little crazy yourself — no offense! Even the most calm and collected individual can be thrown into flux by hectic situations. You’re more likely to lose things when you’re stressed, so keep a close eye on your notebook, and if you get a good idea, write it down straight away, because I can guarantee that it’ll fly out of your head immediately if you have other, bigger things on your mind. Make sure you back up your data, too — there’s nothing worse than hitting ‘OK delete’ when you’re not totally on the ball and then punishing yourself for losing something awesome. Don’t edit too rigorously if things are hectic, and if you do, keep your old drafts — you might make changes that will later seem like too much. Basically, just take your time, and pay attention… and if you do mess up, don’t sweat it. Just make sure you carry on writing!
Do you write all the time, or does the mood have to be right? What conditions do you need before you feel you can write?