People often remark that I must be very disciplined to be a writer. If only they knew … (see my earlier post about life getting in the way!) But displacement activity aside, there is an element of truth in the observation. There is certainly more to writing than just dreaming up a good story and a few characters to act it out. There is the sitting down at the desk for one thing, and the getting the words down on the page another. Those things are certainly a key part of a writer’s life, they do take self-discipline and are clearly important.
But giving time to the dreaming is also important.
Good ideas, links, snatches of dialogue, observations, all grist to the writer’s mill, come to me at the oddest moments, and usually not when I am in my office. Motorway driving is often a fruitful source of inspiration, as is walking the dogs, cooking, eating, lying in the sun (or the bath), traveling, or even reading someone else’s book.
I’m not advocating that writers give up on self-discipline in order to lead a life of sybaritism (tempting though that might be), but I am advocating sometimes taking it all a bit more easy. Too much discipline and application can tend to have the effect of making Jill a dull girl, and it often seems to me that writer’s block has a tendency to set in when writers are trying too hard.
Writers obviously have to write, but it is also important for them to live. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls it ‘refilling the artistic well’ and she is right. We writers need to be constantly stocking up on our experiences, our awareness of other people’s quirks and foibles, our knowledge of life and times and our use of language. We need to keep ourselves fresh and open to new ideas, new insights, new phraseology that we can recycle in our novels in order to keep them fresh, innovative and lively too.
So if you are having trouble thinking up ‘the next bit’ (or feel you are getting repetitive strain in your typing fingers) I suggest taking a break, take it easy for a day or two, relax, take a trip, go to a museum or an art gallery, do some shopping or some cooking, let your mind wander and have some fun. Don’t allow yourself feel guilty, just see it as part of the ‘discipline’ of being a writer.