It’s finally here: the week that I sit down at
my dining table a desk and Start Writing.
I’ve spent the last year as a full-time mother, but next week my daughter will be going to her grandmother’s for one day a week, and shortly after that she’ll be starting nursery. I’ll have a luxurious two-day window in which to write. This is a wonderful thing: I’ve got a notebook stuffed with ideas I’ve had no time to process, and I’ll have time alone, in the quiet, to work on them. On the other hand, I’ve never had dedicated Writing Time before.
In my procrastination moments I’ve looked up a lot of Advice to Writers stuff on the internet, and one of the rules that constantly crops up is that you should sit down at a desk for a set number of hours a day and make yourself write. This does not work for me. It works if I have revisions to make, or a roughed-out piece to check over, or a story to get into submission format; but not for the actual process of creation. Maybe it’s different if you’re writing a novel, but for short stories most of my work is done by what Stephen King calls ‘the boys in the back room’*: a part of my mind below consciousness that’s constantly processing faces, and phrases, and symbols, and will eventually spit them back up into my everyday brain in the form of an embryonic story.
There’s no forcing this process. Trying harder will not make it happen quicker, or better, or bigger. Once the resource is tapped out, that’s it. Sometimes the idea’s out there and it’s lost its way a bit in being laid down on the page, but the best way for me to deal with this is to do something else. Gardening or walking will usually sort it. The boys get back to work, and a solution pops up. But charge into the back room straight away, bothering them, shouting about deadlines, and they’ll go on strike.
So set ‘creation time’ doesn’t work for me. This is not to say it doesn’t work for anyone; it obviously does, and this is one of the reasons I’m a bit suspicious of those Twenty Rules Of Good Writing articles. They pull me in every time (tell me the secret!) but I know they’ll just leave me confused (I can’t stand that author that A. Famous-Novelist says is essential! Shit, I’ll never make it).
Set writing time will work for me, though, once I have critical mass. Once there are enough roughed-out stories, I’ll have something to do even when the fresh writing has to be left alone for a while. And the enforced downtime of motherhood will mean that the back room gets plenty of productive time (in your face, Cyril Connolly).
For the moment there’s so much time to make up: the months that it takes competitions and publishers to respond to manuscripts will leave me with a half-year delay at least between the start of work and any action related to it. But this is a lifelong pursuit, and not something I could stop doing even if I knew none of it would ever see the light of day.
So here goes: my first new flash fiction piece has been submitted to the Gloucestershire Writer’s Network short story competition, verdict in October. In the meantime there’s that notebook with its pages of barely legible biro scrawl, written with my left hand whilst cooking dinner, or holding a baby, or drinking wine, or all three at once. Let’s give it til Christmas.
*I can’t actually find this quote online so it probably wasn’t Mr King who said it. There are 184 quotes on Goodreads by him about writing, but if I have to read one more of them then my eyes will fall out**, so if I’m wrong just correct me in the comments section.
**Which he would probably enjoy.