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Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Art of Not Writing

July 30th, 2012 at 21:31

Having reached the end if not a complete blitz then at least a consistent 6 weeks of hitting writing targets, my current plan is to hone my skills of not-writing.

It’s easy as a writer to get caught up in metrics – word count means progress, books only get written if you regularly put your bum in your seat and type, etc. etc. Those things are true. But it’s also important to recognise when you’re drained and need to refill the well – and particularly when you’re pushing too hard at a book.

For me, it becomes obvious when the writing is hard. Writing is not always easy for me, and writing every day is certainly not easy, with my intense time pressures. But while I am proud of a lot of the work I did over the last six weeks, both on my novel-in-progress and other projects, I can’t deny the fact that I never kicked into that stride, the beautiful momentum that usually fires up after a consistent month or so of writing.

The point at which the words fly, and the story becomes fierce, and the words fall out of my fingers. That never happened. Writing 1000 words five times a day was possible, sometimes really tough, sometimes a bit more achievable, but my brain never actually got to the point of exploding messily all over the page.

And that means there’s something wrong. Not wrong wrong, but not right, either.

So it’s time to rest. To not write – on the novel, at least. To not prioritise word count. To allow myself to feel productive even if I’m not hitting a target each week.

I need to research all manner of things about the Victorian era. I need to read a bunch of gothic novels. I need to spend some serious time without my laptop open, allowing the various slight problems/gaps in my story to work themselves out. As Lucy March and Jenny Crusie would say, I need to let the girls in the basement do some of the work.

It’s a trick, obviously. Because what I’m hoping is that forcing myself to not-write will refuel my novel and my creative juices, until they both sneak up on me and drag me back to their cave. I want the next time I write be because I’m hurting to write, because the story is screaming its way out of my head. And I’m really hoping that taking this not-writing period means that I will sneakily end up ahead of myself, because the next bout of writing will come faster.

It also wouldn’t hurt to spend more time on family issues, on planning for Jem’s birthday (THREE) and actually doing parent help at Raeli’s school, and cleaning the damn house. But the danger of course is how easy it is to get swept up in the domestic, in all the little jobs that have to be done, and to lose what writing muscles I have all over again.

There’s a difference between not writing and Not Writing. There’s also a difference between lounging around in front of the Olympics, and Productive Thinking Time. The clever thing is figuring out what that difference is.

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