Sunday, 7 March 2010

A Writing 101 Production: Part 8 - Stuff That Helps Me Write (Not a Rule in Sight)

There's been a lot of bookie chat lately about Writing Rules for Fiction (yes, that blasted Grauniad piece again). Me? I'm not good with rules. 'See a rule, want to break it' is my rebellious creed. Well, not the biggies--the taboos and the law-busting stuff. Obviously. I am a good and law-abiding citizen apart from the occasional parking ticket. But the small ones, the bureaucratic ones, the idiotic non-daisy picking elf-and-safe-tea ones--all these new Elmore Leonard-inspired writing ones? Give me a hammer, and a map saying 'Opposite Way - Over Here'. For me, as far as writing is concerned, I'd like to misquote the Buddha for a moment: There is no Rule for Writing. Writing IS the Rule. Just do it, I say, and also, (like Nigel Molesworth), DoWn wiv RooLs.

'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....

  1. 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.)
  2.  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...). 
  3. 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....
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
That's it.  None of them are necessary, as I said. And I could certainly write without them (and have done, frequently). But they're what I like and what make me happy and creative. Currently (what with the spinal surgery and all) I am swapping the Ergonomic Chair for an equally Ergonomic Bed. And the Deskdog has become a Bed-Dog. The View has moved along the house a little and involves more sky and cloud-watching (no frisky tups and ewes at this time of year anyway--just the results of their labours which cry and skip in the meadow over the river).  The Library can be brought to me in chunks as needed by the kind and wonderful Wanton Toast Eater Husband. Or Lovely Daughter.  But the essentials remain. And as a writer, I feel very blessed and lucky to have them.

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)


Book Maven said...

I agree about all this, except for the sheep having sex, which I can't see from my window, and the dog (substitute cats in my case). But especially the napping couch.

I used to have a siesta every day till I started treatment for my insomnia. Now I just give in when I have to. It's quite easy because I write on my sofa so I just kick off my shoes swivel legs round and up and pull "the wolf" over me.

That's just a throw, not a real wolf like you and Gillian and Nicky. And very soon I have one, two or three furry companions, especially in winter.

I awake like a giant refreshed.

Nice to read your "fings wot ..." Let's have more.

Stroppy Author said...

Lovely, Lucy - thank you. I totally agree re thin Moleskin books. My most bedraggled one, in which I write new ideas before they become anything more, is now so fragile and so precious (being nearly) full that I daren't take it anywhere, but leave it on a shelf in the library and paste things into it that I write on scraps.

I have a view of garden and field with chickens and chicken sex but no sheep. Coffee is a must - food less so. Clutter, but organised clutter - I love my office but no-one else would have a clue where to find anything in it!

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

Wonderful, wonderful list - and I'm totally with you on the biting thing - of course!
I can't offer up sheep's prowess as part of my view, but the guinea fowl make a suitable and very funny substitution - one day I really must try videoing them as the chase each other around the garden, over the wall outside my study, down the drive, over the garden wall, across the lawn, narrowly missing the pool. As you can imagine, writing usually ceases while this mayhem continues.

Mary, I'm relieved you don't pull a real wolf over you, I'd have to raise some serious objections if you did. Us Wolves are very particular about being pulled over people.

Jo Treggiari said...

Most useful tips. I need a door. Very very badly. Am hoping for a sea view come July but now must make do with a parking lot. Not very romantic or inspiring but it keeps my eyes on the page.

Sarah Aiglen said...

A great reminder that it is the journey - the absolute joy in books and writing - that is much of the reward in choosing the writing life.

Lucy Coats said...

Mary--like Nicky, I am glad that the wolf is a throw. Otherwise the Wolfygirl pack would indeed have to hunt you down and slurp all over you. Thank goodness for another siesta-taker--and I LOVE that line about 'waking like a giant refreshed'. Nail on the head.

Anne and Nicky--bird sex is short and sweet, I think, even if there's chasing. Sheep carnal activity is full of chasing and butting and grunting and funny faces. And goes on for rather longer. But as you say, any kind of lewd animal antics are a distraction from the writing.

Jo--would that be an ALASKAN sea view? I do hope so. But I am sure there is life to watch in the parking lot too!

Thanks, Sarah--it is indeed that joy which is a big part of the reward.

Book Maven said...

The door to my study is permanently open - wedged by two brass doorstops.

But then I am a claustrophobe ...

And I have three cats who need constant access.

Jo Treggiari said...

No Lucy, that would be a Nova Scotian sea view and there are whales there too. But no wolves unfortunately.

Ann Elle Altman said...

I have my things that help me write. I love buying new notebooks and pens... and even though I don't technically write my novels in them, I find them a boost to my writing.


Jeannette Towey said...

Someone else who power naps! Yay. I picked up the habit in Italy and can't shift it. My kids are now well trained and know better than to come near me after lunch until I've emerged from the nap. And how do they tell I've emerged? It's the chocolate I'm munching to get the blood sugars back up again - dead give away.

Lucy Coats said...

Jo--a view with WHALES? How can anyone beat that! Of course it's Nova Scotia--my geography never a strong point.
Anne Elle--time spent buying nice pens and notebooks is never wasted!
Jeannette--always glad to find another power napper and chocolate muncher. Mine's a Willie's or a Montezuma dark, please.

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