How to actually write

Even when I block out a whole day for writing (and congratulate myself for taking it so seriously), and prepare in advance a list of Things To Write, why do I let life get in the way and do all the non-writing Things To Do instead?  Why??

And what can I do about it?  (Yes, this is a plea for suggestions from you.  I know my usual way on the blog is to give you inspiration, but today let’s play role-reversal.  Please?)

Here’s the thought process.

1.  Paid work is just that: paid.  So obviously it’s more important than writing a book that doesn’t even have a proper structure or plan yet, says my inner logic.  So why wouldn’t I deal with the paid work first?

2. Family comes first.  Always.  So of course I need to phone my mum and reassure her that everything is fine, before I get down to writing business.

3. Feeding the aforementioned family is part of my job as Mummy.  So of course I would put dinner in the slow cooker before getting out the writing implements.

4. Speaking of writing implements: laptop, you are very useful and I appreciate everything about you.  But as soon as I open you I can see all my emails and a million distractions.  (See 1.  And 2.)  Yes, I could close all those windows.  But I swear you open them again yourself when I’m busy trying to type a sentence for the third time.

And here is my single conclusion so far:

Write using paper and pen.  In a different room from the laptop.  It’s the only answer.

But it’s not the whole answer.  If it was, I would have come home from dropping the boy off at school, picked up a notebook and pen, and got on with it.

So how do I convince myself that writing this book is as important as the other stuff?  That’s today’s big question.  All answers gratefully received!

Why blog? In fact, why write at all?

Ever tried to explain blogging to someone who’s never read a blog and doesn’t even know what the word means?  If so, I hope you made a better job of it than I did.  I left feeling I’d done a disservice not just to myself but to the millions of other people who spend their time doing this.

During the course of my stumbling explanation, I found myself saying “I write to be read.”  Well, that’s true, I suppose.  I also write to get better at writing.  I write to connect with people like me.  (Are there any people like me?)  I blog to encourage myself to write more, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction or anything in between.

Blogging allows me to explore ideas and develop my skill.  You  might argue that it’s better to do that in private, and stuff the results in a drawer, never to see the light of day.  But then how would you know whether your words were touching people?  How would you know whether your writing was improving?  Would you be motivated to write regularly if nobody was reading?

I’ve said it before, but writing begets writing.  The more frequently you write, the more you will be thinking about writing, and the more you think about it, the more likely you are to actually pick up the pen.  It doesn’t have to be blogging.  Anything that encourages you to write regularly, and keep on writing regularly, has to be good.  For me, blogging provides a framework, a community, and a digital kick in the pants.

What stops or slows your writing?

I can write in complete silence.  That’s my favourite writing environment.  Birdsong and the wind in the trees are acceptable background sounds.

I can write in a busy, noisy place too – as long as I can’t hear the specifics of the noise.  (So a huge hum of conversation is fine, but if I can hear every word my neighbour is saying to his companion, it drives me nuts.  I have been known to move tables in cafes and trains.)

I can write while someone is watching television in the same room – but it takes ten times as long (for once I’m not exaggerating) and is an almost unpleasant experience.  Having someone else’s words collide with my own makes me almost seasick.  I think that’s why I can’t even write to music; the words in my head crash into the words of the song or notes of the music and create what It feels like a physical disturbance.

Sometimes, though, if writing is to happen, it has to happen in less than ideal circumstances.  Such as writing slowly and haltingly in the room where a kids’ film is playing – so I don’t have to choose between being Mummy on Duty for a poorly boy and being Writer on Duty so I can continue to be true to myself.

What stops or slows your writing?  And do you write anyway?

Typos, punctuation and grammar: a can of worms

How long will you keep reading after you spot the first error in a piece of writing?  Yes, I know I’m opening a real can of worms here, but I’m interested to hear what you think and feel about typos, misplaced apostrophes and the like.  (I know you’ll be kind and measured in your responses; I’m not going to rant and neither are you!  And please: if you spot a mistake – won’t that be just typical – do tell me, but gently.  Think about the extra hours I’ve spent making sure I haven’t made any real howlers in this particular post.)

The thing is, the creative part of me wants to feel that we should be able to see beyond the little mistakes in following what might be seen as arbitrary rules.  (Why shouldn’t I spell arbitry like that, since that’s how many people pronounce it?  Why does it matter whether or not I put an apostrophe in “that’s“?)

Oh, but the creative rebel is always shouted down by the stickler for accuracy in grammar, spelling and punctuation.  She’ll get very twitchy after the first couple of errors.  Somehow, it does matter.  (I realised I had something of an obsession when my then-six-year-old stopped reading Mr Men books because he didn’t like the way they were written.  The apple definitely stuck close to the tree there!)

I’m not saying that the stickler is necessarily right in her inability to see past a mistake.  It’s all very personal, I think, and the norms and conventions are always evolving.  The evolution seems to be happening very fast in this online age, and maybe I’m just an old fart who can’t keep up.  Maybe I need to let my creative rebel free and go with the flow.

So tell me – are you more forgiving of mistakes than I am?  What, if anything, does that say about each of us as writers?

[Writer ducks behind a wall and throws the open can of worms into the open street.]

Quotes you never knew were quotes

Serendipity is a great word and I’ll take this excuse to use it.

I just wrote a post on my other blog about fish fingers (bear with me here), and, in passing, used the phrase “tomorrow is another day”.

I turned to this blog and, thoughts of tomorrow fresh in my head, went to look up the quote I remembered from that great philosopher, Scarlett O’Hara: I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

What do you know, Scarlett also said, After all… tomorrow is another day.

I wonder if any of us ever get through a day without unintentionally using someone else’s words?

Can a question ever really be simple?

It struck me today that every question can have a simple answer, or a complex one, or many different ones.  I don’t think any question is really simple.

Case in point: my East Anglian boy, aged 8, visits London.  He has many questions, and we patiently answer them as best we can.  Crossing Westminster Bridge after his first close-up view of Big Ben, he asks:

“Why is everything in London so overwhelmingly big?”

Why indeed?  So many possible answers:

Because buildings need to be big for all the people who live and work here.  (Cause and effect?)

Everything looks big because you’re not so big.  And because you’re used to a small village.  (Comparisons.)

To impress visitors like you.  (Let’s explain the concept of status…)

Because of money.  (And status.  And they’re linked.)

It’s not really, compared to a lot of other places.  (Comparisons again.)

Because it is.  Look, there’s a boat.  (Let’s avoid complicated discussions; we’re on holiday.)

Because of the Victorians.  (But not just them.)

I’s not just about size.  Look at the beauty and grandeur.

Oh look, another boat.