I’m not a full-time writer. I still can’t afford to live on my writing income. In fact many writers are in that position nowadays. But I’ve always been writing while I was working ever since I sent my first unsolicited manuscript out in 2002. The first 3 days of the week, I write only for an hour or so in the mornings. Then comes the creative part of the week – Thursday to Sunday. But what does that mean? Do I lock myself inside the attic room of a tower and type away on my antique typewriter until the takeaway man rings the doorbell?
Nope – no attic, no tower, no antique typewriter and definitely not the takeaway. Much too fussy for takeaway.
Take the case of a professional racer like Lewis Hamilton – he says he never drives cars when he is not working. He rides a bike (not the pedal one of course). So as a writer what would I do with all the time I have every week for 4 days? My colleagues from my day job think I languish in the garden, enjoy elaborate lunches and go to the theatre most days.
Nope, no garden, no elaborate lunches and not a lot of theatre for sure.
My first priority is always the current projects – if I am in the middle of a book that is contracted, or a magazine article or editing a proposal, that’s what I would spend my mornings on. But sometimes I do get distracted and work on something completely speculative and then force myself to come back to the work on hand.
Then I start on preparation for school visits, updating the website, blogging like I’m doing now, creating additional activities and lesson plans for my books. It’s good to keep them updated and be prepared for the next visit. My motto – Always Be Prepared. I was a girl guide once, and well worth the training.
Of course I won’t have all of it to do on the same day. Some days are just writing days, some days are just extra-curricular work days.
But when the contracted projects have been sent away for someone to review or edit, when there is nothing new to do on my extra-curricular tasks – how do I spend my time?
Firstly just because I don’t have a contract on hand, doesn’t mean I stop writing. I’m always working on something – either a new idea or tweaking an old story, doing creative writing exercises, creating funny characters using a game called Character Relay, thinking up odd titles and first lines and scribbling haiku verses.
I have a notebook like what school children call a rough notebook. I write all sorts of things in it – from What-if scenarios to funny poems about the man I saw in the bus or how the clouds changed shape when I went into work. I don’t censor myself when I write in this notebook. I scratch out, I rewrite, I draw, I write messy and I storyboard. As long as the idea gets captured and I create some sparks in the creative nerves of my brains, I’m happy.
So when I’m not writing, I am doing a lot of other things.
Like all writers, I read. I read lots of different books in many different modes – sometimes it’s a grownup book from the Booker shortlist on the kindle, sometimes a stack of picture books in the library and perhaps a sit-down with a collection of poems. The one thing I’m still reluctant to try – audio books.
Very often reading stimulates and triggers a new idea. Sometimes a puzzle piece falls into place about a plot problem or a technique of writing or a character that needed the extra something. Then of course I race to my notebook to jot ideas down, to take down notes and such.
But some days the reading is hard. Could be because the mind is distracted, or there is a low point in the writing and I couldn’t bear to read a masterpiece that would push me into the abyss even deeper. So I have other distractions.
I doodle stuff – from robots to faces to houses to weird-looking cars and ambulance trucks. I colour them in too when I want to play with my sketch pens.
I do zen tangle patterns – I create boxes of design in black and white and in colour. It calms my mind, focuses me on the design in front of me and makes me feel better when I see some of my own artwork.
I watch birds – I was always a big fan of small birds. I used to stand in front of the huge small bird display at Natural History Museum for hours. I bought a pair of binoculars and a bird identifying poster a few years ago – but I dropped the binoculars and broke it. Recently after watching an urban birding segment on BBC – I decided I was going to find, listen to and watch birds in my neighbourhood. So I reinvested in a pair of binoculars. I diligently record every bird – even the innumerable blackbirds, magpies and crows I see and record their calls and try to memorise the sounds.
I cook – I love cooking all sorts of vegetarian food, bake small cakes and I dream of baking good bread. I cook comfort food when I’m feeling low, I experiment when I find some amazing ingredient in the supermarket and try out new salads or soups because I love one-pot cooking. The dream is to write a comfort cook book sometime in my lifetime. But I don’t think I’m big on measuring ingredients – so like my sister says, how can anyone follow your recipe?
I am going to admit two things that would make you gasp. I love ironing clothes while watching the telly and of course I do watch telly when I’m not pressing clothes too. Oh dear, watching telly, isn’t that a bad thing? Well anything is okay in moderation and bad in excess, I reckon. Even ironing. But there are some awesome independent productions, 2-part and 4-part drama that is being produced in the UK now that it would be bad to miss out.
As I have mentioned before in earlier blog posts, I don’t really write well in the afternoons and evenings. So I try and take a break from writing and visit museums, meet friends and meet with family after lunch. In any case visiting family or friends before noon is too rude, isn’t it?
But writing does not always involve writing. You have to live life, watch people walk past, listen to people saying funny things or sad things, learn the name of a flower or a tree or a bird. You have to fly kites, chase flying umbrella and embarrass your nephew in front of his nursery classmates.
It’s also about looking into yourself and learning how to express the emotions you’re feeling now and perhaps the emotions of the past – a sad event in the past, a moment of celebration, a disappointment. All of living is fodder for the writing. But living it alone is not enough – I have to remember it and record it for later use.
My belief is Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, borrowing from Maya Angelou’s words.
A wise person once said, because writing comes from inside the writer’s head, via the lens of the writer’s experience and from the imagination that has been enriched with myths, legends, stories, history, life, current affairs and so much more. Therefore the writer has to constantly fill the well with all sorts of stuff – hoping the quiet time, the time when you go for a walk, when you look at an elephant in the clouds, when you listen to music or dance to a new song, the time when you don’t write – will mulch the stuff into material – stuff dreams are made of, stuff imagination is made of.
If you want to write, don’t forget to live, reflect, observe, notice and of course write.