Monday, 20 September 2010

Don't let your rituals kill your creativity

You probably have a private space to write, somewhere quiet, a favourite lap-top or pen and notebook, a particular brand of coffee you drink whilst writing, a favoured plotting process, a particular time of day for writing, a particular numbers of hours for doing it, a word count to adhere to.

You can already see how easy it would be to upset the above writing routine.

We all have mechanisms to get us in the mood for writing, we'd be foolish not to. Real-life crowds in our writing time and space and if we're not careful will squeeze it to nothing. We have to be vigilant and keep our writing time and tools sacred, but it's easy for these support mechanisms to become crutches that we can't live without, and in the extreme actually inhibit our writing.

The key is to focus on flexibility, not rigid systems – here are some things to look out for and ideas on achieving a more flexible approach to the craft.


Noise and distractions are anathema for writing, but if you demand complete silence that's going to limit the opportunities and places for doing it. Don't let noise get in your way, invest in some headphones and some un-invasive music – even better go somewhere noisier so it all becomes background and less intrusive. I spent this lunchtime writing in a cafĂ© – quite possibly the noisiest place I've ever worked but due to the generality of the noise it faded to nothing once immersed in my writing.


Learn how to write anywhere – writing isn't something you do when you have the time in the right place, it's something you are.


Don't just have one favoured tool you have to do your writing on, have a whole suite of weapons at your disposable – laptop, netbook, notebook (both kinds) etc. Carry your work on an USB stick so you can work on any computer anywhere in the world, carry a laptop/netbook/notebook (both kinds) with you wherever you go so if the car breaks down you can crack on with the WIP. There can be no excuses.


You can get into a heated debate about pants vs plots but real writers do both. Brick-walled whilst pantsing through your draft? Get the damned index cards out and plot. The sterility of plotting driving you insane? Then just pants the thing. Process is a means to the end, and shouldn't be the end itself.


I used to think that if I didn't have at least four hours of writing time it was pointless starting. I then used to think that if I didn't have at least an hour's worth of writing time it was pointless starting. Now if I get ten minutes, I write. Anytime. Anywhere.


Don't limit yourself to your WIP – sometimes you can get exhausted with it or have some other ideas that need exercising – write a short story, start a plan for WIP2, work on a blog-post, your synopsis or query letter. Failing all that, do some writing exercises. If you really feel you can't do anything then just write down ten observations of the place you find yourself in. It still counts.

This is what we are. This is what we do.


  1. I also used to think that I needed a large block of time to get my writing done.

    But I've realized that those moments of time can add up.

    It's actually ironic that I get more writing done in little pockets of time rather than big chunks of hours.

  2. I like taking breaks and working on different things - esp. when revising!

  3. @Karen - I think sometimes the fact that you know you haven't got much time focuses you - if you think you've got hours ahead of you I find I'm more inclined to procrastinate.

    @Laura - yes, doing different things is good - a change is as good as a rest, if you'll forgive the cliche!

  4. Okay, so I'm posting again. Thanks for the tweets! I'm glad you've liked my short series this week. I've really enjoyed your posts too! And I'm not just saying that. :)

  5. Interesting post, as always, James. I love varying my writing experience. Inventing new tools to see through the thicket of words in my manuscript, rearranging my desk, using different types of music. I particularly like new, possibly intrusive environments so I can tune them out. There's part of my brain that craves novelty, so I have to indulge that so I can immerse better in what I should be doing.

  6. Love the post,thanks for the tips for keeping excuses from getting in the way of our writing adventures. One of my favorite tips to new writers is to write what you know. What I mean by that is, don't let what you don't know about your work to get in the way of your process. If you don't know how your story will begin,but you know the middle, start writing the middle. If you know how it ends, start there. I love to take paper and pencil and go out and experience a scene. Then the next time I'm at my computer I put elements from that scene into my work. If I'm in a waiting room, I find something to do, even if it's just creating character composites from people that I meet there. As you said, writing is a way of life. Observing what is going on around me is part of the process.

  7. @Laura - thanks Laura - really looking forward to reading your future posts.

    @Roz - yeah, me too - I've been messing around trying out some new software - Writer's Cafe and SuperNoteCard - neither of which are completely perfect for me. You know what I think I really need? A huge spare wall which I can cover with paper and index cards so I can walk around and see my story-threads and scenes and move them all around at will. Unfortunately I don't think I can do that, unless I buy a new house. It can be so hard to get an overview of a major work like a novel, particularly when in the ideas phase.

    @cygnetbrown - thanks for dropping by and commenting and I'm pleased you liked the post. You've highlighted something I'm hopeless at. I seem to have to attack everything chronologically, or more strictly speaking, in the order that things will be presented - and I know this has held me up in the past. So your tip is a great one, and one I'm definitely going to try and apply in my own work.