Here it is at last. A stretch of weather we can revel in. Sunny afternoons, barbecue smoke drifting over fences, parks littered with bodies half-dressed. And all that time in the evening. So how do you make it productive?
Every year I get excited about how much free time I’ll have. You’d think, after ten years of teaching, I’d know better. After the trudge and then the scurry with exam classes, desperately cramming to make sure they are prepared, big gaps start appearing in your teaching timetable. You’ll be so productive, you think. All those schemes you need to plan for next term, that reading you’ve been meaning to do, it can all be accomplished. What’s forgotten is the sluggish effect the sun and the late evenings can have on well-meaning plans. When you’re trying to juggle your work and your fledgling writing career, it can be all too tricky.
Sure, you could go home and write a few chapters, or edit that short story ready for going out. That would be the sensible thing to do. But the sun’s out, and you don’t know how long it will stick around for, so you could go and meet friends outside a pub, or walk home through the park instead of getting the tube, or the million and one things that suddenly seem available once the temperature permits you to show a bit of knee.
But there is a way to enjoy the weather and still get things done. It’s all about taking it back to the old school. You know, that flappy lined stuff that gets put into books, along with those sticks that have ink in. Ah yes, I speak of the humble pen and paper.
If you’re editing, or writing out some quick notes, it probably makes more sense to get it straight on the computer. However, for the process of creating, or even playing around with existing ideas, I always find that scribbling it by hand is the way to go (even if it can sometimes take a while to decipher it). The sneaky point here is that you can be sunning your legs, or dipping them in the paddling pool, and still be productive. Hurrah! A loophole. Just 30mins of this a day and you’ll find you have thousands of words to play with.
So far so good, but what about the actual content? So many times I’ve had a deadline looming, and all I can think is – I need to write a short story. A really good one. Funnily enough, that doesn’t tend to lead to the best piece of writing. Instead, I just get frustrated with myself as the hours tick by and I still haven’t been struck by the mythical god of inspiration.
The most fruitful writing time has been when I look outside of myself. Look at a person, or a place, and just start to write about them. It usually starts as some basic form of description, but before long I start adding in other details, their motivations or feelings. This kind of writing is great for the following reasons.
1. It gets you thinking about the words.
Seems obvious, but because you’re not overly focused on plot when you’re writing like this, it gets you thinking far more carefully about the rhythm of your sentences, the letters and sounds and how they fit together. Some of my best writing has been just a few sentences I’ve lifted from a piece like this.
2. It frees up your mind.
You’re so busy with the physical act of writing (which of course is more involved if it’s on a page) that you find your thoughts taking you to unexpected places. If you know the editing is coming later, there’s less pressure to make each word count. Taking the pressure off means you’ll probably be more creative than usual, or perhaps your word choices and plot decisions will go in some unusual and unexpected directions.
3. It allows you to experiment.
Giving yourself a short time in which to write, the pressure’s off. It doesn’t have to be the best thing you’ve ever written, it doesn’t have to fit exactly with what you were working on yesterday. You can try out different voices or styles, safe in the knowledge that it’s something you can always come back to. In the same way, you could take something you’ve already written or are working on, and allow a different voice to come in, or approach your characters from a different angle.
4. It’s fun.
Once writing becomes more than something to do in your free time, it can start to feel like a bit of a chore. Pressure (probably self-imposed) to succeed or to get a certain amount done per week can really take the joy out of creating stuff with your words. Sitting in the sun for half an hour and letting your mind wander is a sure way to rediscover why you decided to spend so much time doing this in the first place.
5. It can lead to unexpected places.
The different ways I’ve used this writing over time is varied. Some of it has gone back into my novel, giving a chapter a fresh perspective, or even adding a new character. Little ideas grow into big ones, and something that started out as an exercise in pen-wandering ended up being chosen by a literary magazine to be published. They are also not to be underestimated for their implicit value. Reading back over them reminds me of words or phrases I haven’t used in a while, or might just simply make me smile. In fact, I’ve dedicated an area of my website to these pieces – little ‘fragments’ of writing that have captured intimate moments in time.
So next time you’re trying to decide whether to knuckle down to some work or sit outside, you can do both! Not only will you get a bit of extra Vitamin D, you’ll also allow your writing to go places you hadn’t imagined it could. Enjoy reading my ‘Fragments,’ and do share your thoughts and ideas below.