For the past ten days I’ve been on my own at home, with my family enjoying their holiday in Greece. I was supposed to be travelling to Zurich for work, but the course got postponed. So I decided to reward myself with a home-based ‘writing retreat’ instead. After all, I’ve got beautiful landscapes all around me, a comfortable (and now blessedly quiet) home, and a self-imposed deadline: what more do you need to write?
And do you know what I discovered?
No, this is not going to be one of those posts lamenting how the saboteur of my writing efforts is no one other than myself. How I spend far too much time online or procrastinate mercilessly. How I fear failure and talk more about writing instead of doing it.
I discovered I love it very much. It gushes out of me like a river that has been contained by a dam for far too long. I am perfectly content to write all day. I bury myself in my house, live like a hermit, don’t feel lonely at all (having an understanding cat helps), and my dull little routine is utter bliss.
I wake up at 7:30 or 8 (no early mornings to get children ready for school with last-minute surprises). I do my Twitter, blogging and reading of other people’s blogs with a coffee cup (or two) in hand. And then, usually at 9:30 or 10 at the latest, I start writing.
I spend the morning typing up (and editing as I go along) the chapter I wrote the previous afternoon. I have lunch when I feel like it, usually something simple like a salad or yoghurt or bread and cheese. Then I might have another quick check on the internet or read a couple of chapters and go for a walk. This past week we’ve been fortunate enough not to have a heatwave anymore, although another one is heading our way.
Then at about 3 p.m. I change my position, go upstairs or on the sofa and start handwriting the next chapter. I stop to watch the quiz show Pointless on the BBC (I like complaining that no one seems to know the answers to the literary questions – yes, I’m a priggish snob like that!). Then I write some more. And in the evening I read.
Claudia Cruttwell describes it perfectly in a recent blog post describing her escape to an isolated cottage in the Cairngorms:
I soon discovered how expansive time becomes when there is nothing – nothing – to interrupt your day. And it’s not just the not being interrupted: it’s the not anticipating any interruption. It made me realise how much this anticipation lurks in the back of my mind at home all the time. I’m always half expecting something to break into my concentration, be it the children, the telephone, the dishwasher cycle, some outside disturbance, or whatever. I realised how distracting this sense of anticipation is.
But when you don’t have to try and keep all of those diverse strands of unproductive worries in your head, when you can neglect everything but your characters and your story, the results may cause euphoria.
The more you write, the more you want to write. The fewer people to interrupt you, the simpler your life gets. The simpler your life is, the easier it is to have that wonderful ‘laser-focus’ all those self-help gurus talk about. Open yourself up to ‘blue-sky thinking’. Be in the ‘flow’. And all of those other expressions I use for my bread-and-butter but hopefully not in my creative writing.
It’s been a great boost to my confidence to discover that the true cause for the lack of writing does not lie within myself, but in external circumstances.
Now, how I can keep the momentum going when the ‘external circumstances’ return – that is a far more delicate matter…
For lovers of numbers, I am about a third of the way in: 10 chapters out of an estimated 30 (some much longer than others), 35 000 words committed to paper out of an estimated 90 000. I was hoping to be about halfway through at this point, but this is still quite good going, considering that I had only about 8000 words until 10 days ago.