Writing Secrets: Holidays can be creative (no, really).
Holidays are approaching. If you’re very lucky, it may give you time to write.
You’re not usually expected at work and you’re not called upon (barring emergencies, of course) to summon the plumber, have the roof fixed or visit the hardware store. I once wrote the large part of a PhD dissertation through December, waking early and working through the quiet time when most people were out having fun. It’s a good space in which to write. It feels peaceful.
On the other hand, I also know what it used to be like having children home from school. And some partners are not as long-suffering as mine, and require company and attention. Not to mention the relatives who are coming to stay. It’s only right that, after a year working and doing the school run, you ought to have time for your writing. Except that it doesn’t always turn out like that.
If this is your life, I feel your pain. I’m not going to batter you with exhortations to get up at 5 to fit in an hour of writing. If you’re lucky enough to have someone to wake up with, enjoy it. And if you haven’t, enjoy that too. Be a little self-indulgent.
There are many ways you can build your writing practice and even advance your current project without becoming reclusive or making yourself unpopular.
If you have an on-going project, take stock of it. Carry a notebook around and, at odd moments, free-write as your character. Allow yourself to be a conduit for her voice and personality. Give voice to her concerns: what she wants, in the longer-term, and more immediately.
New story ideas will flow out of this process. When you get back to her, she will appear more believable on the page. You won’t lose touch and forget who she is because you’re not giving her any attention.
Practise writing, on one notebook page only, what your story is about. Start with what your character wants, and what stands in her way. If you find it difficult to do this, your story may be in trouble. Go back to your character and work out what it is that she’s seeking.
If you don’t have an on-going project, you can still use the holiday period to build your writing practice. One important thing, of course, is to keep reading. There’s nothing that helps writing quite like reading. Read to enjoy. Keep a book with you always for those odd moments when you’re able to indulge.
Carry a small notebook around with you. Wherever you are, eavesdrop shamelessly. Transcribe the exact words they use, including the pauses, the interruptions, the ums and ahs. Not only will it provide you with story ideas, but it will give you a good feel for the rhythms of real speech, which you will try to mimic in your dialogue.
Spend ten minutes a day free writing. Set a timer but not an objective. Simply start writing. It doesn’t matter what you write about as long as you don’t worry about spelling and grammar, and as long as you don’t censor or belittle yourself. You’ll be amazed how it will strengthen your voice and get you writing with greater ease and flow.
Set yourself the task of observing a setting or a group of people. Don’t just look at them idly. Watch them with your writer’s eye – and ear. Use all your senses. What does a scene feel and smell like? How does the ice cream taste?
Now force yourself to find the words to describe what you are observing so actively. Ban the generic descriptors. No beautiful sunsets, awesome oceans or picturesque villages. Find the words which will allow us to picture the scene for ourselves. Concentrate on strong verbs and, where you use adjectives, let them specify something particular, like colour or shape.
Have fun with your notebook. Describe interactions between great-aunt Jenny and cousin Stan. Use specific details to bring them alive.
It’s hard at first. It takes practice to observe actively and to find exactly the right words and images, but the more you do it, the more supple and powerful your writing will become.
Here’s another little exercise: observe someone – a total stranger – then develop them as a character. Decide what kind of person they are. Ask them questions (in your head, of course). Ask things like: what do you want? What are you most afraid of? What do you most look forward to? What was your most traumatic incident? And so on.
If you have the time, write an internal monologue as though you were them. Slip inside the character you’ve created and allow them to write about their hopes and dreams.
Whether you have a project on the go or not, whether you have time to yourself or find yourself surrounded by bored family demanding entertainment, you can develop your writing. Don’t be resentful – just use what time you have in the best way possible. It’s never a waste to go back to those five-finger exercises and build your writing practice.
If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a good one. Otherwise, I wish you a happy holiday and time to spend with those you love.
There’ll be no blog from me over the next two weeks since All About Writing is closing for our year-end break, but I’ll see you in the new year.
Read Richard’s latest blog: ‘Monday Motivation: A master-class in character creation‘
Introductory Power of Writing Course: Starts 2 December
Creative Writing Courses on early bird special until 3 January 2020:
Cape Town: Starts 3 February 2020
Online: Starts 3 February 2020
Johannesburg: Starts 3 February 2020