Writing Secrets: Writing intentions are terrifying – but don’t show your fear
That’s the theme for the New Year. There was too much of that last year and it wasn’t productive.
I hope that, this year, you’ve cast aside unattainable resolutions in favour of an achievable intention to keep writing and remain creative throughout the year. But now is the time to set your writing plan in motion.
You know the saying: it’s harder to put on your running shoes than it is to go for the run. The same can be true of writing. I know it’s terrifying, but you need to set the time you intend to use for writing – and then actually sit down to it.
Quell the panic. And then, make very sure you don’t form your writing intention into a stick with which to beat yourself. If you haven’t yet put it into practice, it doesn’t mean you might as well give up. It doesn’t mean you’re useless, or that you “always do this and never manage to keep it going”.
So, no, you can’t spend your intended writing time bingeing on box sets of Game of Thrones. It’s a bit like a diet. You know you’ll feel better for it; that it will make you stronger and healthier, but perhaps you’ll start tomorrow, or the next day. And in the meantime, there’s chocolate in the cupboard, and if it’s not there tomorrow, there won’t be that temptation …
There are tricks to get yourself going. For the writing discipline anyway. I’ve never learnt to resist the siren call of a chocolate in the cupboard. It dances and sings to me. I can block my ears, close the door, but I can still hear it singing.
Okay, enough of that. If you’re feeling rusty, spend your first ten minutes free writing. Set a time, but not an intention. Write without expectations or self-censure. It’ll calm you down and get the ideas flowing.
And here’s my perennial advice. If your mind is blank, stare at the blank screen. (At least they can be blank together.)
Sometimes it may seem as though it would be easier not to put yourself through the agony. Nothing’s coming and you’re clearly not going to write anything of any worth.
But the longer you leave it, the harder it will be.
This is my secret: keep staring. Don’t allow yourself to rise, except perhaps to make a cup of tea. But only one. Write a word, perhaps two. You will be dragging your feet through mud, but keep dragging. After a while, three might trickle forth.
If you keep forcing the words out, one at a time, they will begin to flow. And when you come back later and assess your writing, you’ll see no difference between that and the writing which flowed so fluently. In fact, it may even be slightly better.
Part of what blanks the mind is fear. Face your fear. Set your writing times for the week. Don’t wait for inspiration. You’ll be ninety-four and the inspiration will finally strike … but you won’t remember what it was for.
Ring-fence your writing time. Don’t allow anything to intrude on it. Don’t ever allow yourself to think: oh hell, I didn’t finish doing my tax. I’ll use …
No, and don’t let anyone else encroach on it either. If you tell people you’ll be writing, they’ll think: Oh yay, she’s not working. I’ll surprise her by turning up for a coffee. Lie if necessary. Tell them you have this massive deadline and won’t be able to pay your rent unless you work Saturday morning.
Lying is such good practice, anyway. You can feel virtuous about it. It’s an excellent way of developing your imagination.
Jo-Anne Richards is an internationally published novelist with a PhD in Creative Writing from Wits University. Jo-Anne has published five novels: The Imagined Child, The Innocence of Roast Chicken, My Brother’s Book, Touching the Lighthouse and Sad at the Edges.
Her first novel, The Innocence of Roast Chicken has been rereleased, as part of the Picador Africa Classics collection. When it first appeared, in 1996, it was nominated for the Impac International Dublin Literary Award and chosen as an “outstanding debut novel” by a British book chain.