Always On My Mind (Time Permitting)

Okay, picture it: it’s 7am, and you have to leave for the day within the next half an hour.

Willie would be so disappointed in me.

Willie would be so disappointed in me.

What essentials do you bring with you to get you through the day?

A bag lunch?  Your phone?  Your mp3 player if that’s separate from your phone?  Something to read?  Any of the other following useful items:

  • A pocket knife
  • An extra pair of socks
  • Sunglasses
  • Legwarmers
  • Rain gear
  • Ibuprofen
  • Water
  • Eyeglass cleaner solution
  • A handkerchief
  • Lip balm
  • A USB drive?

Almost all of the above-mentioned are things I carry with me on a daily basis.  Even sunglasses, which I wear all year round, and legwarmers, which are a must in Vancouver, for once the sun goes down, the temperature plummets with it, even in the summer.

But perhaps the very most important thing I pack for a day away from home – something that’s not on the above list due to its lack of material form – is a piece of a story (usually my novel-in-progress, but not necessarily) to think about over the course of the day.

A fatal subtraction

In my previous post about how smartphone usage can stifle creativity if it’s used to fill all of one’s “gap” time, I wrote about how I like to spend those boring periods of enforced idleness that arise throughout a normal day sitting with myself, thinking about scenes and characters and future novels I want to write.

One thing I might not have made clear about that is that it’s not just a fun thing I opt to do as opposed to web-surfing, texting, or playing a game on my phone, all of which are also fun.

Rather, I have to take this time to think about my writing – particularly about whatever scene I currently have in progress.  Doing so is a crucial component of my ability to write said scene, or really, to write anything at all.

Not doing so, if you’ll pardon the play on words, is probably my most fatal subtraction.

Not surprisingly, I’m not alone in this practice, for Romania-French playwright Eugène Ionesco is quoted as saying the following:

A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.

Most people, I’m sure, believe in the power of visualization, if not in a metaphysical, New Thought, harness-the-power-of-the-Universe sort of way, then still a pragmatic devising of some sort of mental game plan before carrying out a task.

The fact is, I do my best writing when I’m away from the computer.  Indeed, most of what I do at the computer isn’t really writing at all, but rather transcribing, as if I’m a courtroom stenographer taking down the account of how events played out in my head earlier that day.  The longer I spend thinking about writing each day, the clearer and more complete the vision becomes, and the easier and faster it is to type up.

Subtracting fear

In another previous post, I spoke of my fears associated with writing, namely, the ever-present anxiety that today might be “the day” – the day that I run out of ideas to keep my novel-in-progress progressing.  Author Roald Dahl claimed that,

A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.

I love this quote so much, I have it posted up in my bathroom where I can look at it every day in hopes of keeping that very fate at bay.

Every night, I sit down at my dining room table and I have about two hours to write.  The first 20 minutes or so of this is a period of warming up and finding my rhythm; the last 20 I tend to spend taking notes for the next day, and midway through, around the hour-mark, I often experience a mental slump of about 10 minutes.

Add to this the fact that I’m a rather slow writer on a sentence-by-sentence level, and that advancing clock on the taskbar can feel mighty tormenting.

This is why I don’t want to waste any of my 70 minutes of actual “writing” time thinking about what I’m going to write.  The slowness of that task would only cause me that much more panic, and gradually turn Dahl’s quote into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead, I always try to, as it were, bring something to the table for each writing session – to be ready to rock and roll the moment my butt hits the chair, already knowing in which direction I want the day’s writing to go, so all I have to do is follow it.

Scheduled, spontaneous thought

But this writing method of mine isn’t really as easy as that.  Not because I have trouble thinking up ideas for What Happens Next, and charting a course in my head.  Rather, because I don’t always experience enough downtime in my day to do so.

I blame this primarily on my job.  An increased number of new projects now takes up much more of my attention and focus where previously, I could still at the same time ponder the story idea I’d carried from home, like a computer running a side application in the background.

Obviously, I’m not going to quit my job.  I’ve thus had to try harder to make better use of those times of the day I’m not activity engaged in work – times that include,

  • Washing and dressing in the morning
  • My commute to and from work
  • During my lunchtime workout
  • While getting supper ready
  • While in bed awaiting sleep

Yes, you just read that correctly: I now have to schedule times to think about writing each day, in addition to the time already scheduled for sitting at the computer every night.

Believe it or not, though, this might actually be for the best.  Work does tend to expand or contract to fit the time allotted to it, and a bit of pressure can be a useful motivator.  Thus, in attempting to schedule thinking-about-writing time, saying to oneself, “Okay, I’ve got 17 minutes for this bike ride to work; start thinking plot NOW!” can kick-start the brain into immediate action.

It can be compared to casting a mental fishing net out into the ethers, wherein your determination – your hunger – to catch something will necessarily yield results.  It’s about knowing what you want and fighting for it – fighting your own fickle Muses – and not taking no for an answer.

It’s about harnessing the power of, not the Universe, but your own Creativity.  Which is a force no less formidable.


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4 thoughts on “Always On My Mind (Time Permitting)

  1. Great post. Although do you think this

    A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.

    might satisfy the tax man if I write off every penny I spend?


  2. I like the way you think 😉 I am always thinking about writing. I usually have a completed novel in my head and then on my once-a-year vacation I write it all down. This is because – once I start writing, I can’t stop 😀 But I don’t have to worry about this for much longer. As of Friday this week I will be leaving work for good and moving back to the farm. This will give me all the time in the world to wrtie and I seriously cannot wait! 😀

    Great post! I love the quotes and may just stick them up on the wall 😉


  3. You and I do seem to have a few writing methods in common, Dianne. It’s certainly encouraging to me to learn that someone who has enjoyed some success in writing works in some of the same ways I do. Although, it does take me much longer than my annual vacation to write it all down. I’d be such a failure at NaNo. 🙂

    I’m so excited for you with your move back to the farm. I didn’t realize it was happening so soon. You’re going to get so much more writing done now, plus you’ll get to spend all that time in nature. How wonderful for you.


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