Category Archives: creative spaces

Writing to White Noise

A little over a week ago a few members of our illustrious group of Storyslingers met up at the local public house with the intention of hammering out some words on our respective stories in a relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by like-minded and creatively inspiring support.

I’ve never been one to write on command, it’s always had to be when the mood and inspiration have taken hold of me, but I didn’t go there with a lack of ideas. I had things I knew I could write, that I had to write, and yet nothing was happening. It was frustrating to be sat there, nursing my orange juice and lemonade and staring at the open Word document on my laptop all the while my fellow ‘slingers tapping away at their keyboards and talking of a 1000 words noted.

So what was happening that was preventing me from writing? I believe it was the pub itself, and the distraction it was providing. For me, it was the wrong type of background noise.

When I write, as infrequent as that may sometimes be, and I am producing a serious volume of output there is always some background noise. Some people make playlists of particularly inspiring pieces of music, or songs that are acting as a soundtrack to the stories they are writing.

I remember reading an interview with the late and great Iain M. Banks where he said he had once written with a James Bond movie on in the background because he was so familiar with it he didn’t have to pay it such attention. It became like a white noise that filled the air as he wrote but didn’t distract him.  While I would never dream of comparing myself to him, I feel very much the same way – only for me it’s not James Bond movies (as much as I am accustomed to them as well) but television. Most comedies, American sitcoms, either on DVD where there are up to 8 episodes on a disc or whatever is on Comedy Central during the day. Heavily edited episodes of Two and a Half Men usually.

For me it’s not about getting inspiration from these shows as I write, but about the ease and familiarity they provide that allow me to write without the feeling of frustration that I had felt at the pub.

So what is your white noise when you are writing, or do you like to be distracted and tested when you do?

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Planning For A Writing Life

There are loads of reasons to be a regular writer. Writing regularly makes you a stronger writer. Writing regularly makes you a more focused writer. It helps with memory and recall, and with spelling, grammar and punctuation. It can be rewarding. It provides structure. It’s brain exercise, and that can only be a good thing.

Trouble is, it’s not always easy to get into the swing of regular writing. I’ve struggled with it in the past, and I still do. We all have down-times. Things happen in everyday life that are our of our control, and sometimes writing is simply impossible. Once you fall out of your stride, it’s damn hard getting back into it.

But there are things you can do to ease you into a writing life. And if you plan to have a writing career, you really can’t afford not to write regularly.

A lot of people write either to a word count or a set time per day.

Start small, aim for something reasonable like 250 words per day. Young adult author Holly Black breaks down how she wrote her bestselling YA novel (part three in a trilogy) Black Heart here. In her post, she shows her daily word count for the four months it took her to write the book. Most are quite modest—sometimes she writes 300-400 words a day, but she writes regularly and so she’s able to finish a first draft efficiently. A lot of people aim for more than 250-500 words per day. If you can manage 1000 words, in two months you’ll have a novel. I know, it sounds easy when put like that, but often it’s far from easy. It’s not impossible though.

There are a couple of extra things you can try if you’re finding it hard to write daily:

First, figure out your optimal time to write. Some people are morning brains, and some are evening brains. There will probably be a time of day when you’re more productive—the creativity flows much quicker and more fluidly. Experiment. See what feels comfortable. You might also find that there’s no real optimal time, and even snagging an hour or two here or there is difficult. But if you really want to be a regular writer, you’ll find time. You’ll steal it. You’ll catch it in a dark alley and beat it up until it works with you.

Second, you need to find your Cave. This can be literal or figurative. My Cave is really my MacBook—as long as I have it, I can generally sink into my stories and get lost. If there are noises around me that I can’t ignore, I’ll plug in my headphones and listen to instrumental music. Or just plug in the headphones and not listen to anything (those little earbuds are great for noise reduction). But if you need a physical Cave, try to find a space where you’re comfortable to write. It doesn’t have to be a silent, candlelit room in a secluded Buddhist monastery high in the mountains of Tibet or anything—a lot of people love writing in busy coffee shops, or with the TV blaring background noise behind them—but it does need to be somewhere you can get lost in your ideas and story. If there are distractions at home, try taking your writing elsewhere. Pop out for half an hour and write on a park bench, or at an internet cafe, a library, a bar, at a friend’s house, wherever. I’ve known so many people who sneak daily writing in at their non creative-writing day job (naughty! But awesome!).

And sometimes it’s just really hard to start your daily word crunch.

There’s a fantastic exercise in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron called ‘The Morning Pages’. This is where you write three hand-written pages, every morning just after you wake up, of literally anything that tumbles out of your brain. It doesn’t have to be fiction. It doesn’t have to make sense. It should be stream-of-consciousness. You can write about what annoyed you at work the day before, or your reaction to a stupid comment you read online last week. You can imagine the last thing you ate and describe all the flavours and textures you remember. Write a list of chores and how you’ll go about them. Write about how irritating it is to have to get up and write three pages every morning. You just write those three pages. They’re just for you, not for anyone else. It clears your mind of all the crap you carry around with you throughout the day. Julia Cameron says: ‘ The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery.’ It won’t work for everyone, but it might for some.

Personally, I think the most important factor that keeps me on track with writing regularly is having an idea or set of characters that I love to bits. I must love my idea and my characters so much that to spend a day apart from them causes me angst and jitters. If you don’t love your idea, you probably won’t love the time you need to dedicate to it to getting it finished.

This is very long-winded, but I know what it’s like to want to write so desperately and then talk myself out of it for some reason or another (self-doubt, time management, tiredness, Skyrim, etc.). When I’m in the groove, there’s nothing like it. Productivity and creative movement feels great.

And I think writers should be able to feel great every single day. 🙂

Writing in Space (or, Creative Spaces), Part I

Where do you write? A while ago Book Chick City hosted a series of guest blogs called Where Stories Are Made, in which writers posted a short entry about their creative workspaces and their writing routines. These range from home offices to parks and coffee shops, and any other place writers feel inspired and comfortable, and most importantly—where they get stuff done.

Here at Storyslingers we thought we’d share a few of our own Creative Spaces on the blog.
Shaftesbury-based writer Becky Bye shares Old Wardour Castle:
Many people say that there is a time and a place for writing, and for me, no place is better than Old Wardour Castle, near Tisbury in Wiltshire. A romantic ruin set in the Wiltshire landscape, the castle is a serene and beautiful spot in which my notebook has been filled on numerous occasions.

There is something intriguing and mysterious about writing in a location where so much history has taken place, and that I myself become part of history in those few moments; scribbling profusely in my notepad under a tree, or sat at the bottom of a spiral staircase. The mood of the castle shifts from day to day, which has a significant impact on my writing; some days the castle reveals its secrets, most of which I was never expecting to find, and which weave their way into my stories. On other days, the castle looks less inviting than usual, blending into the grey backdrop of a dreary English afternoon, and on such occasions the grandeur of the castle simply adds a unique elegance to my thoughts and ideas. No matter how bad a particular bout of writers block may be, there is no level of inspiration which cannot be released after just a few moments at Wardour Castle.
Dorchester-based author Gail Aldwin shares her study desktop:
I like writing somewhere quiet but I’m not sure what the best writing environment is, as I haven’t experimented with this. Normally I work in the family study, a small, untidy room with a window which has a fabulous view over the water meadows to the north of Dorchester.
 I share the space with everyone except my daughter who prefers doing homework in her bedroom.  My husband and son play games on the desktop and I write on a notebook.  Sometimes we sit alongside each other but that’s only possible when the headphones are in use. If I can’t stand the distraction, I relocate to the kitchen table and work there.
Writer-in-denial Stephen Pellow talks about inner creative spaces:
Writing about something that doesn’t exist is something people who write do all the time. Being asked to write about something that probably should exist but doesn’t is proving to be problematic, though.

I don’t have a writing space. No nooks, crannies or cubby holes. No ready room. No secret garden. No stark whites, or muted earth tones and certainly nothing airy and spacious overlooking sweeping vistas. I write in my head, and with all the useless trivia I have retained over the years there’s certainly no room for a desk in there.  Sometimes that’s all I need, but it mostly comes down to having pen and paper and me, and that’s it. If I were to sit in a room at a desk and try and surround myself with inspiration – when I’m put against a clock, pressured even slightly to produce something – nothing happens. If I have to do it, I rarely want to.

So I always make sure I have ready access to a notepad and pen (or pencil) because I never know when, or where, I’m going to be pinched by creativeness!

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We will be posting more Creative Spaces over the coming weeks, so do check back for updates.