Don’t you…forget about me…

Getting round to things. Those days—or for me, weeks, months, years—when you don’t get done those things you really want or need to do. I’m not talking about ordinary, everyday, common-or-garden procrastination; this goes way beyond that. I’m talking about those things that haunt your mind—you know you need to get to them—but somehow you just don’t.

Have you got boxes in your attic/dungeon/guest bedroom that have been there since you moved in? Less than a year doesn’t count, btw. That’s still more or less new. I’m talking about the really old ones you never forget—their very presence lurks just beyond the fringes of your perception. Their soft siren-calls come to you in the dead of night… ‘Don’t you…forget about me…’ (thanks to Billy Idol for that one.)

I’ve got stories that have been waiting for revision since the mid-1990s. In fact, I probably have some from the 1980s, or even earlier but I’m too scared to look. The knowledge that, unless I act now, in a couple of years those dusty old scripts will be able to club together and buy me a silver anniversary card is enough of a prod to make me actually prise open the drawers and start pulling out all those yellowed pages. And start reading.

What was I afraid of? I’ve no idea. All I can say is, I’m reasonably happy with what I read. Not full-blown, “Wow, I’m The Most Brilliant Writer EVER!” happy, but a quietly confident, “I don’t suck as much as I thought, and I can absolutely do something with this” happy.

As I said a couple of years ago, that for me 2015 is the year of writing dangerously. But in the end that was only the start of it all, not just of a year of extra effort, but of a new way of looking at my life and my approach to writing. Some of the dust-covers have had to come off for that. And as I pull off the dust-covers, underneath I behold…new ideas, fresh thoughts…twenty, even thirty years old it’s true, but fresh and new, and still so, so me.

And the things that made me stumble and give up all those years ago—plot holes, problems with language and expression—now, solutions quickly present themselves, the difficulties erased by time, a fresh eye, and above all else, experience. Suddenly, as the kaleidoscope of my mind turns on these ideas, things begin to slot into place and a picture is formed.

Which shows, sometimes it is better to wait. It ain’t over till it’s over.



The Writing Formula


Establishing a writing routine has taken me years. And years. And it’s still a bit shaky. But I’m going to keep at it and work on it because it is a great booster to my productivity and I feel good about it.

Years ago, I read in several different books about ‘morning pages’ and I tried to implement that kind of writing. The idea is, you wake early in the morning and immediately begin to write before the rude outside world has a chance to impinge on your subconscious and stifle creative impulses.

This didn’t work for me on a number of levels, not least being I’m not a morning person and would usually just fall asleep again. Once I woke to find myself still holding my alarm clock, and found that all the wonderfully creative, insightful things I’d written were just a dream I had – the page was still blank! A few times I achieved some writing, but mainly it consisted of ‘I want to go to sleep’, or a completely illegible scrawl.

So that didn’t work for me.

It’s taken a long time but now I’ve realised I don’t have to do things the way other people say I should. I don’t work well with instructions. I never follow recipes, can’t stick to knitting or sewing patterns, and don’t understand formulas. I have to find my own way to achieve what others do by following a formal plan.

If you’re like me, you can do this too. If a system fails to help you, it’s not a sign that you are no good, it’s a sign that you need a new system.

I started slowly, from what I wanted to achieve right then and there. I’m a night person and I do my best thinking when the house is quiet and everyone else has gone to bed. So that’s when I write.

Instead of morning pages written when still in the borderlands between sleeping and waking, I have learned to achieve a deep relaxation, a kind of meditation, and I write random stuff then. I have found that this is quite easy to achieve with practice. Mostly it involves sitting quietly and breathing deeply until I am half-asleep!

But I also do brainstorming activities with spider-web-like diagrams to work out problems or new approaches to a piece of writing.

Writing a journal helps me to ask myself questions, get things off my chest and examine, often over a long period of years, how I feel about my work in general or a specific piece of writing. I’ve just had a new idea about a book I wrote three years ago, and also thought of something to help with the plot of a book I wrote in 1996. Sometimes my books don’t come together right away!

And my normal routine of weekly grocery shopping gives me half an hour or so in a café away from the house with a nice cup of coffee and my notebook, to write the blog post of that week, something I used to really struggle to get done.

So if you’re not in favour of the cookie-cutter writing system, start with what works for you and don’t apologise to yourself or anyone else, if that ‘failsafe’ system the gurus espouse doesn’t work for you. You’re unique, and you need a writing method that works for you, for your individual needs. Anything that gets you writing must be good.