Approaching your writing

We all approach the art of writing differently. Stephen King likes to work in a room with a door he can close, blasting rock music (AC/DC, Metallica, that kind of thing). Hey it works for him, he churns out novels faster than I can read them. I don’t need a closed door, but I do need music. I anchor myself to my stories with music.

Before we get to that, let’s discuss the workspace. This is mine:


It’s not always this neat. I thrive in chaos (note: not dirt). My children also have a way of bringing me things, toys mostly, throughout the day that end up on my desk. I don’t always take the dinosaurs back to their toy box right away, just sort of push them of to the side.

The things you see in the picture are always on my desk. On the left, next to the Coca-Cola, is my Collins Dictionary. I have the Thesaurus too, but it’s in the drawer. I always have coke, sometimes it’s in a glass, not a bottle, and coffee – and yes, I mix the two. I will finish my coffee and go straight to the coke. I’m addicted like that. I always need my asthma inhaler on my desk, for some reason I get panicky if it’s not right at hand, and in case of emergency, I have headache powders (next to the inhaler), although I take those infrequently.

Under my little pink lamp there, you can see my generic MP3/MP4 player thingy. We have a lot of blackouts here, and I can’t write without music, so I keep it there on standby (I stream all my music through Deezer, so when the power goes out, my music dies). My headphones are always plugged in, and when I’m at my desk, on my head where they belong. Next to the MP3 player is my notebook. There’s usually a pen on top of that book, but I think my kids walked off with it. On the right, next to my mouse, is the whiteboard marker. I don’t know what that’s doing there, I rarely use the whiteboard.

These are the things I need around me, or I can’t work. You will notice an absence of snacks and food. I eat at this desk all the time, but not while I’m working. I eat before or after, but while I’m writing I can’t eat. I find it distracting. Other writers like to keep some snacks on hand.

I do consume copious amounts of caffeine, but when I sit down to work, I don’t get up until the story reaches a natural stopping point (unless I really need to go to the bathroom), that’s why I prefer Coca-Cola over coffee – I don’t mind warm coke nearly as much as cold coffee.

Every writer prefers to set up their workspace differently. I have added (and removed) things to (and from) my desk over time, and the above is what stuck. Don’t emulate other authors, just find what you need around you to thrive creatively.

Before I start writing
Some authors have “rituals” they need to complete before they can start writing. I just need to listen to music. There are two songs I have to listen to – one changes all the time, the other stays the same.

First, I listen to this song. Dragonflies and Astronauts by the The Parlotones:

I didn’t choose it for a specific reason, it just speaks to me, and it gets me in that ‘writing mindset’. It was probably the lyrics that linked this song to writing (for me at least). Specifically these:

They tell stories,
They tell stories of leprechauns and dragons, witches, wizards, trolls and dungeons
Fantasies and mysteries you proclaim
The real world is a lot scarier and there’s always a price to pay.

I have conditioned myself with this song to such a degree that when I hear it, I have the overwhelming urge to start writing.

The second song I need to listen to right now, is The Script’s Superheroes:

This is the song I was listening to when Sam showed up, so it anchors me to his story and draws him out when he’s feeling shy. When I start something new, the ‘anchor song’ will most likely change.

I do not, under any circumstances, start writing until I’m 100% sure no one’s going to bug me for the next several hours. I find nothing more irritating, and jarring to my sensibilities, than when I’m right in the middle of an intense scene, and there’s a child next to me, tapping on my arm. It helps that I’m nocturnal, and at my best between midnight and 6 a.m. – those are my optimal ‘creative hours’. Other writers prefer the mornings, I know a few who prefer the late afternoons, but I like the quiet of the night. I can write during the day, but I’m less creative and slower. Attempts to turn my clock around, so I could work during the day (when my children are in school), have proven unsuccessful.

Every writer has their own approach. What you have to do, is find what works for you, but don’t wait for the muse to show up. Go get him (or her … my muse is a man), drag him out of bed, and sit him down on your desk with a bucket of coffee. Over time, he’ll learn to show up on his own, but until that happens, you have to force him to do his work.

Next time, I’ll talk about training your muse. Until then, happy writing!

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