Writing conditions


No apologies for iris two posts running. This group are comparatively privileged creatures; no snow to contend with! They’re by our water butt opposite the kitchen door of our Portuguese house.

We came out to Portugal at the beginning of the month and I knew that internet might be a problem. We have had huge rows with Portuguese Telecom, who have kept replacing our broadband with dial-up, failed (five times now) to replace faulty routers, taken money via direct debit when they know quite well we are not getting any service, then lied, lied, and lied about all of this. So I was prepared to be out of touch, and thought I’d get lots of writing done instead.

The plan didn’t work.

We had the biggest row yet with PT and cancelled the service altogether. Then we chose a mobile internet option but because we are here only intermittently we decided to have the pay-as-you-go version, reasoning that it would be cheaper over the whole year. It probably will, but only because I am being very strict with myself and allowing a maximum of an hour a day online. I log on, deal with email, download things to answer, bookmark things that look interesting for investigation back in UK, skim the main blogging sites I use and log off. Later, I log on to send emails I have composed offline, but so far I haven’t managed to spare the time to make blog posts. This is the first! It’s quite remarkable how much you can refrain from reading or exploring when there’s a clock ticking. But I admit to feeling partially disabled!

So why am I not writing? Well, I am, but it’s all going very slowly. It turns out that I am not a solitary writer. I need my online social life to galvanise me into thinking, let alone writing. I need to watch clips, look at art, listen to new music. I need to chat to people via GoogleTalk. These things, while they appear to take up time that should be spent writing, in fact seem to be necessary to my creative processes. I am not a particularly active social networker, or I didn’t think I was. I don’t use either Twitter or Facebook and have no intention of starting either; I prefer longer, more leisurely means of communication. I use WordPress, Dreamwidth and Livejournal. I read other people’s posts on Blogger, watch recommended things on YouTube and browse DeviantArt. I also discuss my writing with my betas and this takes some online time though if I use email it shouldn’t matter that I read and reply to their comments offline.

I am intrigued by the way that all these activities seem to spur me on to writing more. A lot of people advise writers to switch off entertainment and communication and bury themselves in peace. It doesn’t seem very productive for me. I know that in terms of reading or viewing I need to turn from one genre to another and can’t, for example, read two or three thrillers in a row, or watch a couple of documentaries back to back with any enjoyment. It would appear that my writing needs frequent periods of ‘not writing’ to happen in an orderly fashion so perhaps the same psychological needs for variety are at work.

Then, of course, there is the fact that I can’t use online sites for research the moment a query occurs to me. As I think I’ve said before, fantasy is not exempt from the need for research and I find myself leaving blanks for later infilling more and more often with notes like ‘insert information or description here’ or ‘look up possibilities for names’ and so on. This makes my writing feel jerky and less under my control.

Also, it is cold here. Not nearly as cold as UK and I feel faintly guilty grumbling, but although the temperatures are higher and there is no snow except on the high mountains we can see from our balcony, the outside temperature is closely matched by the inside one, other than in the main living room which usually has blaring TV. Conditions for writing are not adequately met. I can be quiet, warm or comfortable but not often all three at once and I find cold, noise and discomfort all distract me. So do the possibilities of going outside to photograph spring flowers including the iris that head this post.

I hadn’t realised just how many factors influence my writing. I don’t have a favourite chair or view, or any kind of mascot or special drink, clothes or snack. I don’t listen to music all the time. I can tune out some TV and some conversation. I thought I was fairly relaxed about where and when I wrote. Obviously not! In three weeks I have only managed about 3000 words. I can usually manage that in three days when I am ‘into’ a new story.

How do the other writers among my readers manage? Do you have to have every condition perfect? Are there absolutes without which you can’t write? It would be interesting to hear from you!

4 thoughts on “Writing conditions

  1. 3000 words is about as much I could probably manage in a month and certainly not three days! I suppose that for most people there is no one way of managing to write but perhaps a combination of ways. There are things that help or inspire me sometimes, like music or an object and I dislike distractions, but get them all the time. My biggest problem is procrastination – when I can stop procrastinating, stop thinking I need to get other things done first, and just sit down to write, whatever the conditions, it can work.

    I agree that you need the internet to be immediately available – how else can you resolve those niggling little details that you’re sure you’ve got wrong and need to research and there is no way you can progress with the writing until you’ve resolved it?! I’ve tried …

    It’s interesting to know what works for others and to experiment to see what will get the juices flowing when they seem to have dried up. I wish I had a magic formula sometimes!

    • I make progress – but it’s slow and jerky, and I enjoy writing more when it’s smooth and sort of pours out!! I think the distractions are worse than the internet problem. And the juices haven’t exactly dried up – it’s more as if they’re held behind a dam and can’t flow until conditions improve!

  2. What apologies! For such beauties??? And I like irises anyway. 🙂

    I need my online social life to galvanise me into thinking, let alone writing.
    I can understand it very well. Yes, it makes sense for me, what you write about these matters, inspiration for creativity and so on. I often feel similar.

    I noticed too, that leaving things for later tends to kill them in fact. The interest and energy weaken when not reinforced constantly, and when the time comes, it turns out that there are already new interests, more fresh ones. In fact, it’s often for me that I’m most inspired when I have many things waiting in line, and it means also graphic things.

    For writing I need silence and solitude. Views, chairs, drinks and even tools – software, keyboard and such – aren’t important, but I’m easily distracted by noises, especially talks.

    • I seem to manage to tune out the TV at home but my usual typing chair is quite a long way from it, although it’s in the same room. Here, I’m almost on top of the thing!! I find it harder to tune out conversation, of course.

      I’m hoping there will be more iris out soon, before we leave. One year there were some beautiful deep pink ones. We planted some yellow/brown ones but they haven’t survived and we aren’t sure why.

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