It seems appropriate to be starting out the new year with WriteMentor, amongst many new things for me at the moment; not least, the fact that after eight months of being somewhat nomadic, I finally completed the purchase of my new house, and moved in on December 30th.
The sense of being uprooted and without a permanent home did not stop me writing, but it certainly made it a little more challenging; I was lucky in that I found a semi-permanent place to rent for the second half of those eight months, but even then, I could not shift the feeling of, ‘why put this box here, when I will only be moving it again in x weeks?’ That there was no definite end date in sight was a significant part of the problem, but nevertheless I did manage to work on some shorter pieces of work.
And finally I have moved in, and the house I have bought came with a garden studio that has ‘writer’s shed’ written all over it. Well, it does from the outside. Inside, it’s a bit of a mess, but one that a weekend or three cleaning and painting will allow me to move into as my new writing space. Which will be great. But…
Having a room of one’s own
But, how important is it to have a ‘room of one’s own’? I’ve been very lucky over the last few years to be able to have a dedicated space to call a writing space, be it a garden shed here or a loft conversion there. Life wasn’t always like that, however, and when I started out as a writer, my writing space was wherever I and my laptop found myself. I wrote my first novel sitting in my car, parked up in various laybys around the East of England, during lunchtimes from my day job as a publisher’s sales rep. That story is very common – most of my friends who are writers recount stories of writing on busses, at kitchen tables, in corners of bedrooms, and so on.
Finding the time to write
The reason I mention this is that telling yourself you are struggling with writing because of not having the right conditions to do it in is a dangerous and easy trap to fall into. I’m going to take the risk of have people shout at me now, but another easy excuse to resort to is ‘I just don’t have the time’. Please believe me, I do know what it is to be busy and yet still want to write. During those months when I was writing Floodland, and working as a sales rep, I was also doing half the childcare of my daughter, and working some evenings, and so on. Again, this story is far from uncommon. I know people who write with five kids running around the kitchen, someone who sets their alarm at five to carve out two hours’ writing time each morning, someone who gets up at two in the morning to get a few hours in the night.
We are all typically too busy, and yes, of course, it doesn’t make it easier to write, especially if you are a ‘slow and steady’ kind of writer. I was lucky in that my day job – spending eight hours a day in the car – allowed me to think about my books a bit, which I could then write quickly when I found time in my week. And I was lucky too in that the way I naturally like to work, ie, think, think, think, then splurge, suited my day to day existence. If you are not so lucky on that front, in can be worth trying to look to see if you can reorganise your life a little to suit your natural writing process better.
Reflecting on writing obstacles
But even given that, ‘I don’t have the time’ or ‘I don’t have somewhere special to work’ are all too easy to use as reasons why you’re not writing. I really don’t want to come across as brutal here, after all, we are only just getting to know each other, but I promise you that every successful writer I know a) found the time somehow, and b) didn’t care where they were sitting to get that book written. If you’re not writing, if it’s not going well, it’s very easy to put the blame on external factors like this, and almost all the time, the true problem lies inside.
At times like this, it’s worth asking; what’s really stopping me? Why isn’t it working? Am I not connected to it? Above all, it’s worth trying rekindle your obsession with your idea, something we’ll talk about quite a bit this year, because that obsession is the true thing that gets you to your desk, or kitchen table, or parked car seat, for enough time to get the draft done. Obsession is your best friend. People think you need an imagination to write books. You do, but everyone has one of those. What you really need is obsession. Find it and love it.
Okay, hopefully I will have made some progress on the shed by next time, but if not, here I am at a tiny table in the corner of my sitting room. See you next time!
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Author Marcus Sedgwick is 2022 Novel Writer-in-Residence for the Hub, WriteMentor’s community learning platform that connects like-minded storytellers and provides all the tools they need for writing success.
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