Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Working hard at working less

We’ve all heard it before: you can’t sit around waiting for your muse to strike. Before the magic can happen, you have to do the hard work of writing when you don’t feel like it, when your inspiration is at rock bottom and all you can churn out is utter shite. And this is absolutely true; a ton of crappy writing went into the making of my first book (I know this because I’m now editing it all out!) but with the crap there are the gems, and that’s what we keep, and that’s what keeps us going.

BUT. I also believe that when writing becomes a total chore and you feel nothing you write is any good, day after day after day, then it’s time to step away from the computer and give up.

I have a writing schedule I try very hard to stick to. Five days a week I aim to sit down at my desk by 10.30am, and write through to 2.00pm. This doesn’t always happen; like last week when I had to down tools and dash to school with Child #2’s spare glasses after he broke his good pair; or the week before, when I spent a whole Thursday cheering the kids at their swimming carnival. But in the main, I stick my butt to the chair three hours a day and write, ignoring the house work and screening my calls and avoiding the lure of email and blogs and Facebook.

Except that for the last two weeks, writing has been frustrating and HARD. Like threading a needle with a wet noodle, hard.

I know what’s at the root of all this; I’ve hit a patch in my life where everything is more than a little overwhelming. Kids with ear infections, a largely absent and stressed husband, the fact that the mother of Child # 2’s best friend called to apologise for the fact her son had shown my son some porn on his iPod last weekend (!!!!!!) … and, topping it off, our dear old cat is seriously unwell. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to make THAT decision, soon, and given the husband’s manic work schedule I fear I’ll have to deal with saying good bye to the furry, practice-child, alone.


I’ve had all the above running through my brain, distracting me terribly, when I sit down to write. And today, I’d simply had enough. I opened up my manuscript and the sight of my writing made me ill. My brain began to throb and I knew I just couldn't go on. So I switched everything off, rose from my chair and walked away, without writing a word.

I felt like a kid ditching school - relieved, but oh so guilty. But the relief won out. I was simply sick of being in my house doing something that only made me want to smash my head on the desk when outside, the sun was shining, the birds were singing …

So I got in the car and got the hell out of dodge. I had no idea where I was going; I just followed my nose and drove around for an hour with Red Hot Chili Peppers on repeat and turned right up.

Then it happened. Out of nowhere I heard the very words I needed for my scene, words that had refused to show up despite all the pounding on my keyboard. And after that came the images - a book bound in a blood-red, marbled cover; a shattered pane of glass; a scalpel, fallen behind the drapes and into the wrong hands …

And I learned anew the lesson I seem to need to keep on learning: that the only way I can hear those messages that lurk in my subconscious is if I back away from the keyboard and do something that allows my purpose-driven, conscious mind, to switch off.

I know this. Until life got crazy-busy, I’d walk most mornings and come back brim-full of ideas to solve my writing problems.

I have to start doing that again. Plus, a walk is much more environmentally friendly than hooning around in a honking-big 4 wheel-drive for hours on end.

So, what do you do when you’re stuck? Walk? Hike? Bike? Cook? Scrub the mold from the bathroom grout? The list of possible activities that allow your busy brain to go to sleep, and your subconscious mind to pipe up, is endless … and that means I have no excuses.

From now on, I’ll be working hard at working less.


  1. Rach -- ipod porn, good God... I feel your pain; you _know_ how much I do! :)

    Funny thing, lately when I sit down to write, I have ideas but am suddenly overwhelmed with fatigue. I get so tired my eyes literally droop and all I want to do is sleep. What kind of crazy trigger is that??

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  3. Aack, do you have an edit button? I tried to fix a problem and the whole thing was deleted. Sorry.

    I was going to tell Kristen I have the same problem of falling asleep every time I sit down at the computer. I know what causes it for me though. His name is Robert and he is 12 months old.

  4. Hi Rach, pulling weeds in the garden is nearly guaranteed to pull up new plot points with the oxalis bulbs!
    Sometimes you need to refill your well (words from some how to write author). I quite agree. Sometimes you need to look after you, give yourself some rewards and a rest and then... boom, when you're least expecting it the characters start racing around in your head and doing interesting things again.
    Ouch,porn - how old is the child/ren. We've had theiving of Ipods by son's stupid mates and he was there, knew about it, but wouldn't nark on them. Very hard to deal with this stuff without coming over too draconian.
    At least the mother told you. That can't have been easy for her.

  5. iPod porn, oh my...
    Recharging is great, it really does fill your head with new ideas. Funny how vacations don`t do that, but incidents and mishaps and getting out their with people and doing stuff all lead to inspiration...

  6. Gak! I wrote their instead of there! Wow. I think that`s the first time.