Rod for back

Routine

I don’t know who created this: if it’s you please let me know so I can credit you/apologise most humbly for using it without permission

I have carefully, meticulously and with great attention to detail created a rod for my own back.

I have, at various times over the life of this blog, exhorted and advised on the merits of setting a good writing routine: of making creation a part of your day, of building a habit until it becomes harder to ignore than it is to fulfil. Over the past six years I’ve built an impenetrable wall of Work, the hours of which may have changed but its presence has remained unchallenged. Habits have become ossified. Paper has turned to stone.

Now I’m starting to realise that babies don’t work to schedule. I’ve left Paid Employment to take parental leave and my world has come tumbling down around my ears. I’m suddenly (and yes, I know that all this was foreseeable; I did actually foresee it, but knowledge and ‘knowing’ rarely run in sync) faced with the reality: I have to fit my work around the child.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It should be easy. Wait until she falls asleep and then hit the keyboard, hit social media, get on with all the things I should be getting on with.

But I have trained myself to work from 08:00 (or thereabouts) to 10:00ish. Now it causes me almost visceral distress not to be working then – for a given value of ‘work’, at any rate. Writing is medicine, it is sanity: by it I measure life, progress, and keep from staring too hard into the abyss of Failure. When I can’t work I get stressed and angsty and feel all the undone-ness towering over me.

Routine works: the advice I’ve given before still stands. Build your habits and keep producing. Just be cautious, be prepared: the unexpected (and again I realise that I have been in a perfect position to ‘know’ what was on its way: babies are rarely come as a shock outside the world of Victorian melodramas) might sweep everything away.

Don’t become so hidebound that when something comes from left-field the ground is knocked from beneath your feet.

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Rewiring

brain

Baby Lyra is home. The sleepless nights have begun. And I find myself facing a new challenge: how to abandon all old patterns of production and learn to write afresh.

I’ve written before about the value of routine, and habit, to creativity. I’ve waxed at length about how I’ve trained myself to sit at my desk at this particular time and crack on, to get down to it; to shape my brain to operate with the parameters of work and wakefulness. The more you do it, the more you expect to focus at a certain time, the easier it is to pick up and run.

Now I have to retrain myself to take opportunities as they present themselves; in those blissful snatched moments when Lyra is asleep but I’m not. I have to forget the years of mental discipline and work out how to be ad hoc, to be ad lib, to take my splintered moments and make the most of them. Because every second spent thinking of a project is a second you move further forwards. I’ve been advocating a way of working for years. Now I have to forget all that and start again.

I hate not working. To put it another way, I enjoy idleness so much that I fear not working. I now have the perfect excuse to sleep in, to prevaricate, to put everything else first. I have to say to myself that will not do that – whilst at the same time not being so hard on myself as to not give myself the much-needed leisure and relaxation time that everyone needs.

I’m sorry if this post is seeming rambly and unfocused: if it does then at least it’s an accurate representation of my mental state. The important thing for me is to write something.

Maybe next time I’ll be able to write something good.

Intermission

Apologies for the erratic posting recently. I got married at the weekend and am spending a few days off with the other half. It’s lovely to be able to take the time just with her, but it does take a toll on the old writing.

Writing requires regular commitment. After only two weeks away from the page I’m finding it hard to get going. For the first time in I-don’t-know-how-long I’m catching myself looking for excuses not to write. But at the same time I’m feeling an enormous pressure to get on with things. I’ve got work to do. I’m mid-project and these few days off are perfect for getting down to it.

But thinking is hard work and the brain is lazy. How many times to you actually think, actually work your mind every day? Not many. It’s so easy to go through life on automatic that weeks can pass without doing any actual brain-work. You have to train your mind into the habit – and that, as much as anything else, is what writing is. It’s thinking, it’s working; it’s finding that moment when the brakes come off and you find the flow – where the mind ticks into a higher gear and you can sweep a perfect paragraph onto the page.

And so I’m struggling to find the will because being comfortable and loved and lazy are so pleasant. But the tendency to be idle is bashing against my love of writing and my guilt – I think that’s the right emotion – at not getting words down. So I am gritting my teeth and I’m beginning to realise how determined I am to get this work done. Not because I have to but because I want to. Because I love to create.

But of course the missus comes first. We’re going on a mini-moon tomorrow, just a few days away to celebrate – please don’t for a moment feel all this angst and firstworldproblemery comes from anything other than the joy of the marriage and my beloved – and I’ll be missing writing again.

Monday. I’ll be back and working on Monday, and every weekday thereafter.

Inane ramble no. 51

A week off. One week. Don’t sound like it’d make a difference, right? We all need a holiday; all need a little time with the brains off the hook, letting the pot simmer gently whilst the head chef of destiny stirs idly, distracted by thoughts of summertime and the slow ripening of the rape-seed in the field across the road.

Bollocks to that. A week off is a nightmare. All very pleasant in and of itself, but all time off makes a return to work more painful, more stressful and fraught. Every step out of habit is a disruption. Every minute spent lazing on the riverbank equates to more time sat blankly in front of a machine, scratching for words and desperately fighting against the inevitable wave of ‘can’t be arsed-ery’.

Habit. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s got to answer for. All the good things, all the bad things we do in life – all down to habit. It takes time for an inclination to become routine, but once it’s lodged then it’s the absence of work – of writing, of cycling, of going to the cinema – that makes us uncomfortable. Doesn’t take long for something to become habit, doesn’t take long to slip out of either.

So last week I was in hospital for emergency surgery (not serious but extraordinarily painful). Now, after vaguely recovering some form of sleep-pattern, I’ve got to re-learn the habits of sitting in front of my computer when work allows and getting back to Australis. Yeah, to be serious a single week shouldn’t take me too long to get over. But it’s the longest I’ve had off since Christmas, and in my hospital bed I was unable to even think about the work. It’s a pain, especially because I’m doing fresh, virgin writing – and attempting fresh thinking.

I guess this might be another – yes, another – example of why it’s better to plan your work thoroughly before starting. I don’t know why I fight so hard against proper planning, against blocking out the novel step-by-step from beginning to end before setting down a (metaphorical) pen in anger. I think it’s because I just enjoy working it out as I go along; I simply get a thrill be flying from the seat of the pants. But the more experience I accrue the more doubtful I become. Certainly a proper plan would allow me to take time off without my flow becoming totally disrupted. Maybe, one day when I’m rich and famous and have my own library-come-office, I’ll have my very own whiteboard littered with my usual scraps and detritus of construction. But until then I plod along with noting more than a pair of post-its to keep the mind on the rails.

By the way, is there anyone out there who doesn’t dream of having their own library? That still represents my own personal pinnacle of civilisation. One day, one day…

But for now it’s on with the blank stare-age. Wish me luck, folks and people.