Working After The Work Is Done: The Distracted Writer

There is no default template to plan your day’s writing. (You probably can find one online, but please don’t. Templates are for administrative letters, C.V.s and flat-pack products.) Formatting your own writing timeline is whatever works for you – there’s no right way and no wrong way; it’s about getting your story down. The way that Ian Fleming wrote was probably the most idyllic imaginable: a swim from his private beach in the morning, write, walk up the hill to a local bar for a spot of lunch (do you need to ask what he was drinking?), and then back home to write a bit more. He lived in Jamaica. Most of us live in towns or cities. We could go for a swim in the local heavily-chlorinated pool and then later have our lunch in the nearest Wetherspoon. If that’s what works for you, do it – they probably would be able to summon a dry martini too, if you wish. James Clear has compiled a brilliant list detailing how 12 famous authors go about their writing day, from exercising to running a household. I really recommend checking out what they have to say about their daily routines.

When I am writing I like to be ready to start by 9 am. More often than not I will have a loose structure of what will be the topic for the day’s writing, with at least an idea of how it will start and end in place. Those ideas will have been pre-planned, but refined and thought over after the previous day’s writing. A chapter per day works best for me – which will roughly average out as about 2,500 words, sometimes up to 4,000. Some of this will be ditched in the editing process, but at least there are words on a page telling a tale. And if you work on it every day, within three months you have a completed draft! (Oh, there’s a lot more work that is required before this stage – research and such – but now you have a story.) I don’t like any distractions. Like E.B. White is quoted as saying in the aforementioned list, sadly I can’t concentrate when music is playing. If I nip downstairs to make a coffee and there are people around, I mumble something desultory and retreat back to my workspace bubble until I’m done. But a chapter per day does not take up a whole day. So how do we continue working when the work is done?

It is well known that writing is a solitary pastime. It’s great to see people later in the day, spend time with whomever you like spending time with. But when I am writing my mind is immediately and constantly switched on to my creation, literally to the point of distraction – not just of what I have just written, but the part that comes next. Reading other topical novels or historical non-fiction is an essential part of carrying my story with me, rather than leaving it on my desk. Even if I am socialising and someone says something that might suit a character or phrase in the story I will discreetly tap it into the notes in my phone or scribble it down on whatever is to hand – might not use it but, like an annoying broken toy, I just can’t switch off. My preference is not to socialise – when writing my debut novel I had only 3 shandies in more than 3 months and lived in a place that was smaller than a hamlet, with not even a local shop. Similarly to Kurt Vonnegut and A.J. Jacobs say on that list, physical exercise is a brilliant way to keep the mind active. Many writers like to take walks, to keep on thinking away from your writing space. I do. I love it. Nature rewards you with settings and atmosphere that you might not have previously pictured, smelt, felt or conjured. Healthy body (well, personally not right now . . . but I’m working on it); healthy mind.

Spending any time outside in the fresh air is productive for me (although I all but gave up golf because frustration does not aid healthy thinking). What I really like to do perhaps more than anything else is a bit of physical labour, out in the garden tearing up the landscape – a bit like creating new scenes, I suppose. If you are fortunate enough to have a garden in which you can constantly create – and I am currently not, but am always happy to lend my services; grateful, in fact; for the thinking space – then it can afford you all the time alone that you need to be thinking of where you will take your story, where it will take you, next. As you dig and turn, hack and toil, just be careful to cultivate that most precious of things whilst you do: your sanity. Dreaming up imaginary worlds with fantastical folk to populate it can distract you somewhat from the everyday living of life, where confining yourself to the imaginary might be preferable to spending time with real life – I exaggerate, but not by much. For example, I am not sure – not sure I ever will be sure – if my greatest achievement to date is actually finishing my book to be an entertaining, enjoyable and readable yarn, or when I got so carried away by filling my afternoons with a working distraction that I levelled the top of a hillside with just a pickaxe, a shovel, and a wheelbarrow. Really. Truly. I think that was when I did go a bit bananas. But it created all the time in the world that I needed to think what I would write about the next day. And I got pecs.


I didn’t get any good pictures before I picked up the pickaxe, so this is the top of that hill after a distracted writer levelled it off . . . and went bananas


And from another angle. (I am available for gardening tasks great and small. And grateful for it. DISCLAIMER: please don’t attempt to actually take me up on this)

And more recently: prepping for the winter


A blanket of compost and bark to keep you warm through winter . . .


Raised beds put to . . . bed. The things we can dream when we’re turning soil.


Who doesn’t like a nice tidy compost heap?

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