Sunday, 25 October 2015

Writing for beginners (10)

Continuing my occasional articles for beginners on the art of writing, taken from the pages of Writing Magazine and the subsequent compilation called 'Write On! - The Writer's Help Book' (see below)

Binge writing

For many part-time writers, it’s not ideas that are in short supply. Nor is it plotlines or characters or the pure mechanics of writing. It’s time.

The idea of having a few hours off devoted entirely to writing is something many people can only dream about. This may be a period found somewhere in the wasteland between work, family and all the other demands of modern living. It might be a few hours or minutes snatched from evenings and weekends, or possibly the occasional longer burst on holiday.

I tend to think of it as binge writing, when even a short bus journey was - and still is, incidentally - an opportunity to scribble down a few thoughts on paper, hopefully to be morphed into something coherent later.

(This doesn't ignore, incidentally, the excellent NanoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month, which we're almost into - which comes but once a year and which for many writers is a great excuse to let it all hang out and write like there's no tomorrow. If you haven't heard of this event, do take a look - it could be your excuse to join in and find out exactly what you're capable of).

In terms of everyday writing, it's surprising, though, to find how many people approach such valuable free time in blissful uncertainty, only to sit down and… stare at a blank sheet of paper, wondering what to do next.

Like all tasks, writing is something that requires as much planning as we can give it, and never more so than when time is a precious commodity. Dive in head first without a thought to planning the outcome, and it will soon slip away.

It’s not unlike painting and decorating. As a boy, I used to think that all you needed was paint, a brush, something to cover the furniture and a radio blaring loud enough to make your teeth bleed. My father, a keen DIY-er, taught me otherwise (especially the radio bit).

He used to plan his decorating jobs like the crossing of the Rhine, with a full family briefing on colours, materials, tools and clothing, all checked and double-checked days before picking up a brush. This preparation for the preparation used to drive my poor mother up the wall, she being of the ‘Just paint the ****** thing!’ school of thought. But she always understood this was necessary, because my father’s time was in short supply.

Using his approach, planning a writing binge would run thus:

Windows of opportunity. Not a term my father would have used, but it helps to identify when you may be able to set aside time to write. That way, everyone around you knows what to expect.

Materials. With time of the essence, you need to hit the ground running, so to speak. This means having everything to hand, be it paper, pen, printer ink, notes and reference sources.

Task. Is it a new project or an ongoing one? If new, take time out beforehand to jot down a synopsis from which to work, so you don’t slide straight into blank-brain mode or end up raiding the biscuit tin every two minutes because you can’t think of anything to write. For an ongoing project, you’ll probably have some ideas down already, aided perhaps by the last writing you did, and maybe some changes you want to make. Either way, you should be able to see a clear way ahead.

Objective. What do you hope to achieve during this writing stint? A page? Two pages? Solid (new) writing plus some editing? Be wary of aiming too high, and set a realistic goal for the time available. Lumping too much of a load on yourself will leave you stressed and dissatisfied – which might be reflected in your writing.

Dealing with distractions. Well, whoever guaranteed a smooth patch of utter bliss and quiet, with only the sound of a distant skylark to accompany your creative thoughts? If ever there was a day when your auntie Minnie was going to call round for a cup of tea and a moan, you can bet your buttons it will coincide with you-know-when. If you can bear to do it, lock the door, unhook the phone, bury your mobile in the compost heap and tell anyone who might be in the habit of calling round that you’ve gone into rehab. Basically, lie in your teeth if you have to; you owe it to yourself.

Plan breaks. Actually, it’s more a question of planning the amount of writing in between the breaks. Setting yourself a target that is manageable for you, followed by breaks away from the desk, gives you a series of work-plus-reward bursts which will help you focus on the best use of your time. The quickest way to lose concentration – and enjoyment – is to become stale and tired through sitting for too long without a stretch, a leisurely scratch and maybe a quick walk round the garden with a cup of tea and a biscuit to disperse the mental moths.

Review your progress. You can stand back and look at what you’ve done, probably best left toward the end of your writing stint; that way you can still make any quick changes you think necessary, note any extensive amendments you may wish to make next time and even revise the direction of your story in light of what you have just accomplished. Or you can leave any reading/editing until later, and make more leisurely decisions then.

·        Plan when, where and for how long you intend to write.
·        Have ready everything you need - especially a rough synopsis.
·        Don’t tell anyone – they’ll be unable to resist calling round.
·        Take breaks – even if only for a few minutes each.
·        Start planning the next binge.

The Writer's Help Book' - available in paperback and ebook. 

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