Thursday, 26 May 2016

Learning To Inhale: Becoming An Effective Writer

When I first started writing I made great plans about my word counts.  I would write 2000, 3000, 6000 words a day! That way I'd write a novel in a couple of weeks - a month, tops.

Readers, it didn't work out that way.

Part of the reason was that, while I could write at that rate for one day, the next day I was shattered and wrote nothing.  The exception was when I went on a writing retreat, renting a cottage and doing nothing but writing.  Then my output was much larger, more like 5000 words a day, sometimes even topping 7000 - and still finding time to watch Countdown AND Bargain Hunt.

It took a long time for me to twig why there was this discrepancy.  It was because when I went to a cottage I did nothing else (apart from watch day time television).  I didn't have to wash clothes or tidy up or pick children up from school or feed them, or feed myself much for that matter.  I didn't have to worry about paying bills or where my car keys had mysteriously gone to, or whether the cat was going to be sick or anything at all.  All I had to do was plonk my bum on a seat and get typing.

But real life has to go on for most of us, and all the day to day stuff has to be done - demands to be done, in fact.  When I was at my most productive, both in terms of my own writing (books, blogs, articles etc) and teaching others to write, people sometimes said how amazed or impressed they were by my effectiveness.

Truth was, I did nothing else.  Writing, or teaching about writing, and day to day stuff.  That was it.  None of the other fun things people do like sing in choirs or go to concerts or pub quiz nights or social life or knitting or anything.  Just writing...I even stopped reading for pleasure.  I was productive, breathing out efficiently and effectively, but I'd forgotten about breathing in.

Mistake. If you don't breathe in, you run out of air. And if you run out of air...

My counterpart would be the person who intends to write, but never finishes anything.  They may not even get started.  They attend lots of classes and sign up for courses and read all the books.  They probably have a great social life or make beautiful artworks or help others or do any number of interesting things. They write wonderful novels and poems in their heads and tell other people about them with energy and enthusiasm.  It's just nothing gets out there.  It doesn't happen.  They're breathing in, but not out.

You need to breathe out to be a writer, but you also need to breathe in.  Don't forget to organise your life so you're doing both, even if it does make you less 'productive'. Just doing one or the other will not, in the long term, get you far.


Marina Sofia said...

I think it would take a long, long time until I run out of breath and need to breathe in again. I can't wait to have some time on a writing retreat and do nothing else but write and discuss writing. But that only shows how far out of balance my life has become! You are right in principle.

Giles Diggle said...

Yes, Sarah, we only have one life; we can have many goes at writing! Don't want to mistake one for the other.

Sarah Duncan said...

Marina, it's a wonderful feeling to have that freedom to do nothing but indulge. I hope you get on that retreat soon.

Giles, you're so right - writing about life isn't living a life.