W3 Wise Words on Writing

W3 is a monthly newsletter for writers on a variety of topics from technique to the psychology of writing. It appears by the 15th of each month. More information is available from www.wisewordsonwriting.com

Friday, October 14, 2005

No. 37 Having Your Head in the "Write" Place

Having Your Head in the “Write” Place
W3 Issue 37

Okay, I am sorry for the pun.

W3 is updated the 15th of every month.

Old issues are still available at http://www.blogger.com/index.html

Please share W3 with your writing friends. Teachers: use anything from W3. If you quote us please give our website and blogsite. I welcome comments: donna-lane.nelson@wanadoo.fr

Next month I will write about writing conferences.


Anyone who has worked for a newspaper, advertising agency or corporate communication department knows that waiting for the creative muse means we’ll end up on the unemployment line. Nor can phone calls, interruptions or meetings be considered good reasons for missing deadlines. Whether we have to share office space or have so much footage that we get lost from the door to our desk, words must come out and are turned in to someone else’s schedule. We have no control over our writing environment.

However, when it is our personal writing we have more control over the time and place where we work. Notice the words “more control”. Complete control is impossible.

As writers we need to establish the best conditions we can develop good writing habits giving our work the best chance to flourish. These can be broken down into time, space and psyche.


Family members can make demands on our time as bad or worse as any boss. We can set aside no-bother zones. We can take the phone off the hook, not answer the door and threaten our offsprings and/or partners with disaster if we are interrupted. But it doesn’t always work. One photographer I know had a partner who agreed in principle that she should be able to develop her photos between three and five Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. However, since he worked out of the house, he always needed to find a sock, ask what was for dinner, etc. Finally she told him she wasn’t answering him and locked her darkroom door.


Space and money limitations mean we seldom have our dream writing spot, although the partner of one writer I know, built a small house in their backyard for her that she set up exactly as she wanted. My writing mate has her “souk” which is her own office EXCEPT when the family has company and she relinquished the sofa bed to her guests.

Writers, with limited house space, have set up a desk or even a board on saw horses in the corner of a room. Although one writer’s family doesn’t go near what they call her altar, she has yet to train her cat to stay off her papers which are piled in a system only she can understand. Finally, she learned to cover her piles with a towel even when she takes a bathroom break. The towel saves hours of sorting papers knocked onto the floor.

The ideal space allows us to start work without preparation. In the television show MONK when Monk, a compulsive personality was taking a test he spent so much time making sure his pencils were perfect and the first box was marked just so, he never got to question 2 which brings us to another problem and that is of the way our psyche can allow us to sabotage own creativity and productivity.


We need the “write” place where we are mentally ready to accomplish what we want to accomplish in the time we have.

Sometimes even the most disciplined writer gives into procrastination: the laundry has to done, writing would go better with a chocolate, the dog needs to go out (even if the writer has to wake the dog). That doesn’t begin to cover other chores: email, computer games, the headlines and even for a desperate delay – washing the kitchen floor.

The hardest thing in writing is to stop the actions and voices that stop us. The second hardest thing is to do the things that encourages us.

Some writers use a free write, others mind map what they want to do. A veteran list maker lists what he wants to do each day: develop Phil’s personality, write one page of dialogue with Phil talking to Allison.

The secret is to find our own triggers that let us make the most of the resources we have.


I asked my on-line writing group how they worked. Here are the responses.

1. At age 40 (13 years ago), when I began to write fiction, I began to walk. I live on the top of a hill and I walk to the bottom, then climb back up by going on the road that goes around the whole hill and village – it's 7 kilometers (5 uphill) which I can now do in an hour (if it's under 90/ 37 degrees). I cannot write if I haven't walked, because not only do all my ideas get sorted out during the walk, but my magical endorphins come out to play!

2. I seem to have two distinct types of personalities: at work I'm a complete discipline & structure psycho-freak. I really am! If things at work don't go exactly to plan, I'm not one of those people you want to be around. I've always been like that, I think school & my parents conditioned me to be like that. Day job is very serious business to me. I feel guilty if I give less than 150%. It's the root cause of all my stress disorders.

At home though, I'm a complete slob. I leave all discipline behind as I leave the office each night. My personal life is one hell of a free-fall and that's just the way I like it!!

On weekends I get up when I feel like it, grab my cup of coffee (I'm a self-confessed coffee addict), go back to bed with my coffee, rape the cat or snuggle up to my man (on those rare occasions when he's in town). Then I spend an hour or two dozing, day-dreaming and developing story lines. After that I'll have a bath and while soaking I'll write down the plot bunnies I've had. I might sit down to plot further or write if the mood takes me. If it doesn't, there's no point in sitting down at my PC, because I won't stay there. And truthfully, I don't like forcing myself. Once I'm in the zone though you might find me at my PC for 18 hours straight. I take it as it comes.

Work space ? I'm lucky I suppose. Since I have a fairly large apartment all to myself I can work wherever I want. I have an 'office' with a PC, bookshelves etc... but as mentioned before – a large chunk of my brainwork is done in bed or in the bath.

3. I listen to music while I write. In fact I ALWAYS listen to music even when I'm in my regular day job. I can't work without music. My favourites are: Bob Dylan (I'm a Dylan junkie: seen him play live 28 times, all over the world), Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Hornsby and country music in general. Music is the biggest inspiration to my writing. A good song will evoke images in my head, images are transformed into words....

When I don't listen to music, I play music (piano & guitar) or I torture the neighbours with my singing. Occasionally, I will write my own songs.

I don't keep a journal. I've always been a complete anti-journal person. I've tried it a couple of times, but always find myself embarrassed by my ramblings, when I reread. Anyway, my journal entries always say the same things: "Thursday, Friday, Saturday..: Must be more organised, must learn to keep my mouth shut every now and then."

But saying all that: I live in awe of those who are disciplined. Just imagine how much more I could get done, if I were like that. But it just isn't in my genes... a Taurean trait perhaps?

4. I liked reading about your working practices. Mine have changed since moving, used to write in living room next to the television, which meant I was doing two things at once; now write in backroom with no TV to distract me, and hence am finding I write much less! Do not know why. I do sometimes listen to music, but generally when David is playing music upstairs that I don't want to hear. When I play music sometimes I also have Simon and Garfunkel, but often world music, people like Zebda (French/N African), sometimes old folk music, sometimes weird off the wall things, sometimes classical (particularly partial to Chopin's Nocturnes, no matter what time of the day), but generally write in quiet, looking out towards the sunset, which is in the opposite direction from the screen, which is possibly another reason why I am writing less these days.
I could never get into journaling, even a diary only gets to January 2nd on average, though when I am on holiday, etc, I would write one, maybe. Also when fired up I could write about political things for hours, but people might not want to read those.
I am thinking of getting a laptop, which will vastly change my writing practices, e. g. I can sit in front of the TV and write again, and there will be no space to stick things between my computer monitor and the hard drive, which is constantly a storage space for all sorts of documents, relevant and irrelevant. Whether this will mean that I will keep these in a heap somewhere else or keep them tidy is a matter for conjecture. I would never dare have a cleaning lady as it would embarrass me too much.
Discipline would be wonderful, and would work for me if it wasn't for games on the computer - only the basic supplied ones, solitaire and so on - and for sunsets.
5. I don't have the time to write "just for fun". Don't get me wrong. I think free writing is very important and I'd love to have more time for it. But usually my schedule is quite tight having to meet certain deadlines. Of course, there are times - like these days - when there's no deadline ahead or a project to work on. BUT - I need this time off to get other stuff done. e.g. to update my homepages, to clean my room which usually is a mess (You should be able to hear my cleaning woman. She's not allowed in my room and each week she keeps telling me: We need to do this room! Well, yes, one day!)I've got my own working room since we've moved into the new flat which was 5 years ago. It's a small room but it's all mine! There are many shelves with books I need for my writing - right now there are two huge heaps of historical books on the floor for my next children's book. There's of course a desk with my PC but not much space for writing by hand. I don't do that usually, anyway.And - YES! - I am VERY disciplined! I am a VERY lazy person which shows when it comes to sport, but I am a very disciplined writer. Writing is a job (and a passion, of course) and I am as disciplined with my writing as I am with the office job. I wouldn't allow myself to be late at the office so why should I allow myself to be late at my desk at home?We usually get up at 7, have breakfast and read the newspaper. M. leaves at 8 which is the signal for me to sit down and start writing. Or - if there's no current project - answering my e-mails, updating the homepage etc. Even if I come home very late the night before (which happened a lot during the past weeks!) and/or have drunk too much I sit at my desk at 8. It's the only way to get me started! Oh, and I have my second cup of tea then.Usually I write up to three hours. If I work on something I don't like (usually this is something like the taxes etc.) I tell myself: You have to get this done today, otherwise you're not allowed to leave your desk. This helps most times but even I have to realize sometimes that there are days when absolutely nothing helps. Oh, and most times I listen to music while writing. For a while now I listen to a list of favourite songs I've downloaded from the internet and/or recorded from CDs. It's very old stuff like Simon & Garfunkel or brand new stuff like Green Day. The days I don't listen to music are very rare. The music keeps my thoughts floating ...

1. Describe your ideal work place and then try and adapt reality to the ideal.
2. List the time factors that keep you from writing.
3. List what keeps you from writing what you want and try and find two solutions.

See you next month
D-L Nelson