Do you dream of being a writer? Well, now’s the time to turn that dream into reality.
To help get you started, our expert columnist and leading expert in digital distraction and digital detox, Frances Booth shares an extract from her inspirational new book A Writer for All Seasons: Beat Blocks, Face Your Fears and Keep Writing
The most important rule is to turn up.
Turning up means turning up to write when you’re:
Full of energy
Have no energy
In the mood to write
Not in the mood to write
Some days you’ll feel like writing; other days you won’t.
You need to turn up through all of it.
On the days that you feel great, well, that’s great. Write for as long as you can and enjoy it.
But what about all the other days?
If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll waste most of your time waiting. Instead, you need to write when the conditions are not perfect (most of the time) as well as when the mood strikes you.
Turn up anyway. Cast your net. See if you can catch a few words.
You need to be able to turn up whatever, because the only certainty is that, during your time as a writer, things will change.
Your mood will change. Conditions will change. The weather will change. How much time you have for writing will change. How you feel will change. What your writing needs today will change.
Some days there’ll be the unrelenting glare of the sun. On other days there’ll be wispy clouds and life will seem easy.
You’ll need to keep writing through all of it.
Don’t wait for inspiration or the right mood before you turn up. Do it the other way round. Turn up and start writing, and words and ideas will arrive.
When you feel tired, for example, turn up, but alter your expectations. Give yourself some leeway. Do the easy bit. Be kind.
What will you find?
You might dig all day and find nothing. But when you come back the next day, you realise that you’ve prepared the ground for ideas to grow.
Another day, you might write, uninspired, for an hour. Then … 63 minutes in … there it is … the glint of something promising.
Scatter words. Plant ideas. Give it time.
Cross the start line
What if we thought of writing in a different way?
What if we thought about writing a book like we think about running a half marathon?
They’re both huge challenges. They take training, practice, stamina and time to achieve. In each case, you have to deal with psychological barriers, and they’re daunting prospects.
But our attitude and approach to them – in general – couldn’t be more different.
I fancy running a half marathon. I think I’ll give it a go. I’m not an elite runner, but it’ll be a good challenge. It might even be fun. I’ll have to train, but I’m prepared to put in the hours. I’m under no illusion that it will be easy. It will be great to say I’ve done it.
I’d love to write a book. Maybe one day. I couldn’t, though … not right now.
There’ll be crowds along the route – they’ll cheer me on – even the people who don’t know me. They’ll help me cross the finish line. The atmosphere will be great. I’ll tell everyone I know and raise money for charity.
I won’t tell anyone. They’ll laugh. They’ll think I’m ridiculous for trying this. Who do I think I am? I’d love to write a book, but … I can’t give up my job. I’ll wait for retirement. I haven’t got time anyway.
Wait for retirement? Are you kidding me? I’m fit and healthy now. I’ll dig out my trainers. I’ll run before work on Monday. I’ll run at lunchtime on Tuesday. We get an early finish every other Friday and I’ll run then. I’ll run one day at the weekend. I’ll be tired, but it’s only for four months. I know I won’t regret it. I’ll set myself a time target. I’m going to go for it …
Who am I kidding that I could write a bestseller? The critics are really cruel – they’d tear me apart. I couldn’t take it. What if it was no good? I’ve just taken on that new project at work, anyway. I think I’ll leave it for now. I enjoy reading. I’ll just read.
One day …
Win? Are you joking? Don’t you know that everyone gets a medal?
I suppose I could do it for the challenge. I guess if I practise I’ll get better. Maybe I could write on a Wednesday evening. I could do this Saturday morning. Maybe I will write a book …
Write. Jog. Build up the miles.
Go at your own pace. Do it for the challenge. Cross the starting line.
Make it fun
We get it as kids – the wonder of being able – suddenly! – to craft letters, tell a story, write a message in a magical script.
We can’t understand why everyone isn’t running around with crayons writing their names again and again.
We fill piece of paper after piece of paper with our marks.
Then our marks get marked. Our writing gets judged. And that wild adventure ends all too soon.
Writing is meant to be fun. But it’s easy to forget that.
You can tell when you’re taking writing too seriously. It gets heavy. You start being hard on yourself, demanding more while giving your writer less. Far from it being fun, you have no sense of humour left at all.
Sometimes all it takes to get back on track with your writing is to recapture the fun.
A test of fun
What if, instead of a test of whether your writing was good enough (or whether it was a bestseller, or what the critics said), writing was a test of fun?
Do you play with words?
Do you enjoy writing?
Does it feel like an adventure?
Often, the point at which you need to make it fun again is exactly when you feel too pressured to do so. You’re simply too busy or overwhelmed to do something “silly” or “childish” or “frivolous”. But if you get used to weaving fun in to your writing all the time, when you need it, it will be there.
Try these tips:
20 ways to keep writing fun
- Don’t rush it; don’t push it.
- Write a story with someone else. You write the first bit, then pass it to them. They write the next bit, and pass it back. No discussing it!
- What are you tired of writing about? Sticking with writing what you know is safe, but once your enthusiasm for it has gone, it will take more and more effort, and it will drain you. Let yourself write about something different (even though that’s scary).
- Start with an ending.
- Pass on a message in an unusual form.
- Scribble. Doodle.
- Test how excited you are about your writing project. Talk about it to someone supportive. Can you hear the excitement in your voice? Can they? If not, what are you really excited about writing? This method is useful if you’ve got so many ideas you don’t know which to choose.
- Write something in the middle of the night.
- Write nonsense. Robert Louis Stevenson carried what he called his “Book of Original Nonsense” to make notes in. You don’t have to be serious to be successful.
- Go to a new place.
- Write on an old typewriter.
- Go for a walk and look for words on signs, pieces of paper or shop fronts. What are these messages signalling to you?
- Do something you enjoyed as a child that you never do any more – for example, trampolining or singing.
- Use playfulness in an ordinary piece of writing. For example: in an email, note or list. In a letter Charles Dickens wrote in 1863 to the clockmaker, Sir John Bennett, about a broken clock, he writes that since the clock was cleaned it has gone “perfectly well, but has struck the hours with great reluctance, and after enduring internal agonies of a most distressing nature it has now ceased striking altogether”. Every piece of writing – however mundane – holds an opportunity to play with words.
- Borrow a writing style. For example: a train announcement, diary entries, a shopping list.
- Don’t think about how little you can get away with giving your writer, think about how much you can do to support them.
- Make up a word.
- Learn how to write your name in hieroglyphics.
- Start an inspiration box. Write down things you’d like to do, cut sections out from magazines, pick up flyers for events. Put them in your inspiration box. Include anything that you’re curious about or want to try. When you’re in need of inspiration, choose something from your box.
- Imagine you owned an ideas bank that you make ideas withdrawals from and deposit fun in to. Do you need to add more fun before you withdraw more ideas?
This is an edited extract from A Writer for All Seasons: Beat Blocks, Face Your Fears and Keep Writing by Frances Booth.