To write, I need to have all chores done so there’s nothing nagging at me. My optimum time is late afternoon and into the evening. And I write in silence. Just my thoughts, my characters, and the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard.
At least, it’s always worked before. I would start writing and carry on (over a couple of years) till the book was finished. But, this time, I’m struggling to get started. To help me focus I’ve been trying to develop a way to signal to my brain that I’m leaving my everyday world and entering the realm of my imagination. Writer at Work. Do Not Disturb.
So yesterday, back from holiday, raring to go with New Year zeal, I sat at my desk and thought about a little writerly ritual to get me in the zone. Perhaps I should try music, I thought, and put on Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin’s ‘Sisters are Doing it for Themselves’ (my book involves a suffragette). But it just made me dance round the room, which was fun but it wasn’t helping me to write. Scrap music. Silence is golden.
I lit a candle. Took some calming deep breaths. Waited. Nothing. A book of children’s poems was next to me. I bought it after I found myself playing with words in my head one night, which I took as a sign that my creative mind was limbering up. Typical! Just as I’m falling asleep. I woke the next day singing Spike Milligan’s poem.
On the Ning Nang Nong where the cows go bong and the monkey’s all say boo, there’s a Nong Nang Ning where the trees go ping and the teapots jibber jabber joo.
I had actions and everything. My husband, Rob, is used to this sort of thing by now. I was enjoying the musicality, the fun and the nonsense of the language and thought this should be fostered. I also needed to know the rest of the poem. So I bought a book called ‘Read Me and Laugh. A Funny Poem for Every Day of the Year’.
I read my poem for the day. Still nothing. I read over some preliminary scenes I’d written to explore my character. That would surely trigger me into writing. Nothing. Nada. It wasn’t happening. In desperation, I picked up my Mslexia diary, which has top writing tips for the year. I can’t tell you the relief of reading that psychologists have identified a stage in creativity known as ‘incubation’, the period between the moment of inspiration and starting to realise the idea in a piece of work.
‘Many writers experience incubation as writer’s block. Instead of welcoming it as part of the creative process, they (we) often panic and may end up abandoning the idea they’re working on.’
That’s me. I did exactly that in the summer. Ditched an idea I was working on because it wasn’t coming and I concluded I was writing the wrong thing. When it started happening with my new idea, I thought something was wrong with me. I wasn’t trying hard enough.
I do not have writer’s block, my idea is incubating. That sounds much more active, something is happening, even if it’s just in my head. The idea is baking like the proverbial bun. I am incubating my creative baby and it will come when it’s good and ready.
Feeling better, I decided to dip into ‘Writing Fiction. A guide to Narrative Craft’ by Janet Burroway and opened it at the section headed Keep Going. Surely a sign. In it, she tells us that W.H. Auden observed that the hardest part of writing is not knowing whether you are procrastinating or you must wait for the words to come.
That’s where I’m at. But if Mr Auden has been there too, then I’m in good company.