I have to admit that occasionally I feel like saying to you all 'yeah don't bother reading my blog, just read Dorothea Brande's book' because of the number of times I refer to her. I am still working my way through it slowly, just reading a few pages before I start writing every few days. Having said that, in my insane writing craze I can definitely tell you which parts are most important to take note of, and this is definitely one of those parts.
I'm now in my fifth week of writing 3-4 hours a day, roughly 6 days a week, along with working 6 hours a day 4 days a week in a job that requires me to read large amounts of information and summarise it into key points. I'm also trying to follow Stephen King and others' suggestion that as a writer you need to read a lot (which is completely true and what I am going to say in this section does not negate that.) For the past four weeks, the only time I have basically not been reading or writing has been when I've been asleep or at the gym (where I do sometimes take a book).
At the end of last week and the beginning of this week, I was finding more and more that I had to pause in my writing and just sit back because my mind felt totally dry, like I was trying to suck water out of a desert.
Then Dorothea came to my rescue and pointed out my mistake.
A writer works with words. Therefore, a writer needs recreation which is wordless. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But the truth of it has much more depth than you would think. Dorothea challenges her reader to test this out. Try to spend some time with no words: do not pick up a newspaper or magazine to read it, or even turn on the radio. She appears to be including even spoken words into the equation, so no TV or nattering away to friends. Try and be completely wordless for as long as you can. And very soon, she argues, you will find your mind overflowing with words again. It can get drained of its words if used too much, but quickly refills to overflowing if given a chance.
And I have tested this unintentionally myself while away at a retreat. We were given the challenge of not speaking from the end of dinner to the end of breakfast, while staying in a group. It was strange because you were constantly interacting with people, but had to just smile and nod and not say a word. Much more quickly than I would have thought possible, I could not shut my mind up from having conversations with itself. It made me realise that I would never find peace in silence, though now I think I could find writing inspiration.
So, on Wednesday, when Jenny came over to stay the night, I was explaining this concept to her and we started thinking about the variety of activities that you could do that were wordless. Dorothea notes a few writers who practiced this, citing one who started off lying on his back looking up at the sky for two hours a day, until he found his family saw that as an invitation to disturb him because he was obviously not doing anything important, so moved to sitting on a bench in the park feeding the pigeons. Another she referred to used to knit, rather like Penelope in the Odyssey, using the same piece of yarn, and when she got to the end, if she hadn't solved the problem in her story yet, she would undo it all and start again.
Unfortunately for me, I have finished knitting my two large throw rugs and need a new project that will take longer, as I cannot bring myself to unweave them and start again. I am also working on a rather large cross stitch, which I am less than halfway through, and probably has a couple of hundred hours already dedicated to it. But it does take more concentration which is good at times but not at others.
Jogging, rowing, swimming, those repetitive actions are meant to be great for releasing the mind. I have found at the gym if I watch TV while doing them the mind freshening properties are lost but listening to music is completely fine. Perhaps it would be even better if I listened to music without any words, but I haven't tested that theory yet and see some problems with doing so.
Jenny pointed out the usefulness of gardening in this respect: it is productive and healthy, and can take hours without people complaining for you to do something else. It is, therefore, a pity I live in an apartment.
I understand that for some people cleaning and ironing probably have this value, but they are strange, strange people.
I do think cooking works for me, and my sister suggested it might work even better if I didn't use a recipe. As long as she is prepared to eat the disaster at the other end, I'll try it on Wednesday and report back.
My other hobby which I have not done at all since I started writing (and actually for about year now for various reasons) is painting. My verdict is still out on doing another creative pursuit like that, which works on a lot of the same fears I have about writing (that I will stand at the canvas and won't be able to produce what I see in my mind, or that I will stuff it all up etc. etc.) and draws on a lot of the same will power to get myself going. I hope at some stage to take some classes, because I think actually knowing what I'm doing might help a lot. But until then, I might put it on the back burner to my writing.
Another activity which I used to do, which was very strange, but was satisfying beyond all measure of its usefulness or creativity was going through magazines and cutting out pictures of houses, furniture and gardens etc. that I liked and sticking them into folios. (As a habit it used to drive my mother mad, who would open her house magazine to find large gaping holes, but what use was it just lying in a magazine anyway?) How this had the ability to make me so happy, I don't know. I assumed it was through the recognition of beauty and the search then ordering of it. So, I might try that again.
But for now I have decided to try and rearrange my schedule just slightly. It takes me 30 mins door to door to get to work if I train. In just under an hour I can walk it. It's also a very nice walk, most of it along beside the river. I have been put off this recently because of the cold and the wet, and the fact that it was already getting dark by the time I left work. The times that I did do it, I took it as a chance to listen to podcasts on writing and sermons etc. I now realise this would be a perfect opportunity to factor in some wordless time everyday. No one disturbs me as I walk (except for cyclists who think it is cool to zip past as close to you as possible) and I have no other obligations than to arrive at the other end. Also, added bonus, it saves me a train fare, which is a hot chocolate a day (as well as having burnt the extra calories for it. Win-win!). The only downside is that it means finishing writing 30 mins earlier each morning and starting 30 mins later each night. But, if I am more refreshed and have the words bubbling out of me, it might be worth it. So will try walking at least one way, with no podcasts or lectures to listen to, for this week and report back on how it goes.
As to my own writing. On Wednesday morning I did probably only 1,000 words, and then realised that I really was just worded out. So I spent the rest of the afternoon doing my cross stitch and then some cooking, Jenny came and we went to the gym, and I never got back to writing for the rest of the day. Thursday morning I got up and had only 40 mins to write because I needed to get to work early. Was a bit depressed that it was Thursday and I only had 5,000 words written. Was meant to be tutoring Thursday night (which is why I had to get to work early) but college cancelled at the last moment, which meant I could come back and write. Managed to get just over the 10,000 mark by the end of the day. Compared to the weeks before, I should have done a lot more than that, but compared to the few days before, it was a big improvement.
Friday morning just could not get myself out of bed until I was already running late to work (had to buy breakfast at the train station I was that sort of late), and didn't get to sit down to write until after 8pm because I went out for work drinks. However, just over two and a half hours later, I was just over 15,000 words.
Today I sat down for three hours in the morning/early afternoon, and then 2.5 hours this evening, and have added another 10,000 words. So, feeling it is slowly coming together. Am writing from beginning to end at the moment. The other thing I learned today which I will share quickly is to trust your characters for help.
Had one character which I really didn't understand, couldn't work out why he was acting like that or what his motivation was. So just got one of my other characters to ask someone else saying 'I don't get him, why does he act like that?' The other one replied 'not really sure, but what if it is because this and this happened to him?' And from that came out a beautiful explanation of this character's motivations and a possible part of the ending for the book. Glad someone knows what I'm writing about!
If you have any suggestions for wordless recreation, please feel free to share, unless it's dirty, then just keep it to yourself.