In the olden days—no guys, that’s not a mere twenty years ago, let’s say the mid 1800s—we can picture the writer, sitting at his or her desk, quill in hand, staring contemplatively out over some peaceful English rural scene. For the sake of romanticism, can we forget the more likely scenario of the starving, emaciated scribe, shivering in a windy garret? Let’s stay with the positive image—the writer who is blessed with oodles of time, is free of distractions, and loaded to the gills with money. So what’s changed?
My book coaching clients never complain to me about how hard it is to write a book. We all know it is. For some, it’s the hardest thing they’ve done in their lives and, for them, the rewards are the greatest.
For those who are struggling, we discuss the difficulties of writing and devise personalised strategies that remove some of the biggest, ugliest boulders, and then get down and dirty, roll our sleeves up, and shovel the rest out of the way. Fortunately we can all do this from the comfort of our favourite chair, and the nearest we’ll get to dirt is a few crumbs of toast or coffee spills.
But what writers do complain about is the loneliness, the isolation, the desolate feeling of having to live inside their own heads for long periods at a time. And it’s not necessarily happening for them during the time spent at their desks. The affliction can manifest at family dinners—the slow mechanical chewing of food, having coffee with a loved one—staring into one’s coffee cup with a faraway look, sitting in a movie, or, the biggie—lying awake in the middle of the night. In fact, living-in-the-book-syndrome can strike anywhere and anytime during the book writing process. So what can we do about it?
First, is it necessarily something we should stop? Of course not. It’s all part of the creative process. Having plots and ideas running constantly through our heads is the result of our unconscious and conscious minds doing the extraordinary work required to produce a really great book. But we do need to guard against reaching a point of obsession. That’s when our relationships can break down and our day jobs can suffer.
To start with, talk to people about your project—at least until their eyes begin to glaze over. Seriously, there’s always someone who wants to talk about writing—fellow writers, writers’ groups, bloggers (be one yourself and let it all hang out online), and you would be amazed at how many wonderful ideas your friends will help you with when you’re prepared to share. Yes, that means talking about the precious global conspiracy theory
you’re writing about without assuming that someone’s going to steal it and run off to the nearest book agent. Believe me, that’s just not going to happen. And when you’re bombarded with great ideas, just make sure you acknowledge your friends and their help properly when your best-seller is published.
Sleepless nights can be tough, and not too many friends appreciate being called in the wee hours. Even long-suffering partners can get a bit tetchy when their beauty sleep is curtailed by a restless author’s busy brainwaves. Keep a notepad by your bedside to jot down some of those mind-bending thoughts so you can deal with them comfortably in the morning. Smartphones are great for that sort of thing too.
And here’s a great idea. This evolved from discussing suitable work areas with one of my clients—a busy mum. Home was too distracting—too much happening to focus properly, and her time was extremely limited. We decided on the local library as an ideal environment and found that it had an unforseen bonus. My client reported that she felt sufficiently closeted in her own space to do her writing without the feeling of being alone. Surrounded by strangers beavering away at their own projects, her creative juices were stimulated without the distraction of conversation or demands from her family. Give it a go!
So what has changed? Our romance writer is still at his desk, revelling in the luxury of time. Is that a clue? Perhaps we’ll go more into that in my next blog. What do you think?