'Writing Rule' to me says didactic and overbearing and I know best, so do it my way. I'm not going to apologise for feeling like that--it's not ungrateful to all those well-meaning rule-writer writers, it's just the grumpy way I am about being told what to do. However, the less aggressive-sounding helpful hint is different. 'Helpful' to me says friendly and hey, look, no pressure--only if you feel like it and it's useful to you personally. Helpful hints are what I try to give in these Writing 101s. But I'm not going to give you any HH's today. Instead (if you have no objections) I'm going to share with you STUFF WOT HELPS ME WRITE. It's personal to me. No one else has to take any of this stuff as a rule set in stone. In fact, I'll be crabbitly and cross with you if you do, and possibly bite you into the bargain. Please--just enjoy the weirdness and eccentricity. And have a laugh at me. I won't mind at all--laughter is good for the soul (and I think that's one the Buddha would agree with. Also Molesworth, who would no doubt think about giggling fish.). So--in no particular order....
- My Ergonomic All-singing All-dancing Office Chair. It's covered in soft red suedey stuff, and has a sheepskin for me to sit on. When you've had five operations on your spine, like me, sitting comfortably to write is not just advisable, it's a total neccessity. (The sheepskin is not a neccessity--it's the one my kids used to lie on when they were babies. I just like it--and the connection to them.)
- My View. From my desk I look out on green fields and willow trees and a river. It's a rural panorama which changes minute-to-minute with the English weather, and it inspires me. Don't think it's all a Wordsworthian daffodil idyll, though. Skip to No 3 NOW if you are of a delicate disposition. I get gritty realism when the tups come in with the ewes in the autumn. My Facebook friends are sometimes offended with the graphic nature of my status updates on Mr Green Ram, Mr Red Ram, Mr Blue Ram, their sexual prowess, and the multi-coloured state of their adoring sheepladies' bottoms. (Don't worry, that's now it for the sheep bits--on to the dog...).
- My Deskdog. Yes, I have a deskdog. She lies either on the windowsill behind the computer, or between the screen and the keyboard. When I am shouting at my characters or weeping when the plot has gone AWOL, she moans sympathetically and wags her tail. She is a great comfort unto me and usually helps me to climb the next writing hurdle. If not, we jack it all in and go for a walk. Or have biscuits. Which brings me to....
- My Earl Grey Tea and Strawberry-and-Cream Shortcake. The small pleasures in life are important. It doesn't matter whether things have gone well--I've reached a word goal, finished a chapter--or whether things have gone badly--the computer has crashed, I've lost all my work, my novel has wandered lonely as a cloud into realms I wot not of--in every eventuality I treat myself to the above. They make the world a better place for me, regardless of writing success or failure.
- My Pens and My Paper. Sounds old-fashioned and redundant, I know. But sometimes my brain needs me to write down stuff in the way that Shakespeare and Donne had to. And Dickens. And Trollope. And sometimes I'm on a train or somewhere without my laptop or other means of expression. I use Pilot V7 Hi-Techpoint 0.7 pens in black, and sometimes in green or purple. (I hasten to say that I NEVER write letters with the green. That would make me into Mrs Creepy Poison Pen Person. Which I'm not.) I use the ubiquitous lined Moleskine notebooks in black (and yes, I did discover them originally because of Bruce Chatwin). But I prefer the thin ones which come in handy packs of 3, and can be stuffed in any handbag. I was given a notebook for Christmas which is large and white with the Louisa M. Alcott quote 'She is Too Fond of Books, And It has Turned her Brain.' on the front. I may come to it in time. But Moleskines and V7's are what I like and find familiar and comforting.
- My Library. Sounds grand, but isn't. As it happens, I have thousands and thousands of books in the house, all piled up because I can't afford any more bookcases. But my Library is composed of all the reference and related books I can't do without and reach for all the time. My Thesaurus (Roget), my dictionary (Chambers), my rhyming dictionary (Willard Espy), and all the Greeks and the Romans--poets, historians, playwrights, philosophers, travellers and their translators and commentators and hangers on; the Celtic poets and their experts of various persuasions. The Opies for playground chants, the myriad world mythology section, the English playwrights and poets...look if I put everything in we'll be here all night. Books, basically. I can't do without books around me, their smell and feel and general benevolent presence spurs me on to write better and more. And they tell me things I need to know. Arcane facts and stuff--I am a repository of useless but useful knowledge. I enjoy that.
- My Door. Doors are under-rated things. Mine keeps Other People OUT of my office when I'm working flat out to get it all down. Or having a creative snooze. Or doing a necessary 5 minute procrastination stretch on Facebook or Twitter or thinking Very Important Thunks or whatever. It has a notice on it which says: DO NOT ENTER ON PAIN OF BITING: YES, THIS MEANS YOU TOO. My 85 year-old mum, of course, takes no notice. It's annoying, but she's my mum, so I put up with it. Or she'll bite me (where did you think I inherited the nasty biting habits from then?). Actually, if I'm writing flat out, I WILL bite her. She understands. Sort of.
- My Napping Couch. Other People get arsy about naps in 'work time' I find--at least they did when I worked in a London office. But come about 3pm my eyes droop and my head jerks forward or falls on the keyboard. Aarrgh! What happens if my head falls on the Delete All Work button? Disaster, that's what. So if I get sleepy, I totter over to the napping couch, shove dogs 2 and 3 off it, and curl up for a 20 minute power nap. Feeling guilty about this is a waste of energy, so I don't. If I'm really knackered I go to bed. Jealous and snarly? Try it. It might make you in a better temper. It does me. Honest. I might not bite anyone for a WHOLE TEN MINUTES.
Big thanks to Mary Hoffman for inspiring this piece. Her own 10 things that help me write are a joy. Go and read her blog--it's brilliant.
PS:If you MUST read those blasted Grauniad Rules for Writing Fiction for yourself, HERE'S the link.
If you'd like to read more of my thoughts about the joys of creative sleep and napping, they are HERE and HERE
See all my other Very Useful and Eccentric Writing 101 Productions
Part 1 An Overview of Author Platforms
Part 2 Author Platforms (Facebook)
Part 3 Writing Resolutions
Part 4 Spambush or Tweettack?
Part 5 To Plunge or to Plan?
Part 6 Blogging Lessons
Part 7 Writer's Block (Feel the Fear)