After last week’s moan about writing anxiety, I spent the days since tricking myself back into writing. Has it worked?
Well, I’ve got myself 4,000 words for the trouble. Below, I’ve listed what I think I did better. It’s not a methodology. It’s not life-coaching for writers. But it’s something.
Use Microsoft Notepad, not Microsoft Word
Notepad looks like crap, which is the whole point. For one, you’re never distracted by fonts. You can just write. For two, you don’t care about formatting. You can just write. For three, you can get filthy. Disgust yourself with your writing — write as fast as you can, and spell everything wrong — because nobody’s ever going to see what you’re doing in that terrid little .txt file.
Copy and paste your notes in. Make a mess.
And can I promise something else? You’ll never find a better sentence by right-clicking for the thesaurus.
Write in a font you don’t normally write in
Another thing about fonts. Agents and publishers really like reading Times New Roman, but that doesn’t mean you should write in it. Balls to agents and publishers, actually – Times New Roman is a horrible font. It’s angular and pixel-y and dull. It makes you feel like you’re writing essays, which puts a subconscious pressure on you to use words like ‘whilst’ instead of ‘while’. ‘Amongst’ instead of ‘among’. ‘Utilise’ instead of ‘use’. And no, I can’t prove this. But association’s a strong thing.
Me, I used to write everything in Sylfaen. It’s curvy without being unprofessional. Now — mainly because I’ve only just got round to a pirated copy of Word 2007 — I’m writing in Calibri, 11 point, zoomed to 110%. It’s a hot font. If I spoke binary, I would ask to see its knickers.
Start writing when you really can’t (or shouldn’t)
Last week, while I was working, an idea struck me at about 4pm. So I wrote it out into a notepad document, and got paid for doing it. It was twenty minutes – enough to get something down, not enough to get noticed and sacked for the trouble – but it was down all the same. The crucial bit is that I left a sentence unfinished. I emailed it to myself. On the way home, I was properly eager, halfway to running. And when I got home, I picked it up again, and had a paragraph I not only liked, but had started writing on the snide. Have at that, capitalism!
Walking is the most boring thing humans do. A genuinely awful habit we’re yet to get around. And sure, you’ve had this advice before. But you’re blocked, so you’ve got to try and confuse yourself into trying something. So how’s about it? Because the fact is, a half-hour walk really can inspire and baffle even the fattest of writers. Really. Get out and pootle. You’ll be busy trying not to get squashed by those tosser estate agents in their Audis, and the first line of your new story will appear in the road, in the shop window, in the tree. On the hills or in your shoelaces.
I won’t lie: walking into and home from work has really helped me clear my head before a big session. And it’s toned my arse besides.
You know all about Pavlov and his daft bloody dogs. But basic conditioning works. So, if you write a chapter, have a cigarette or a chocolate or another glass of wine. Watch a bit of Eastenders or google your favourite celebrity’s boobs. If you write a smashing line, laugh at yourself — go on — because it’s all right to laugh at how brilliant that line is. And if your partner’s in the room, ignore them completely. It makes snogging better when you’re done.
Remember that it’s all right if you can’t be arsed
Sometimes, watching films and playing games and cooking food seem like the best things your grandparents won the second world war for. It feels good to mong about in your scruffs, shooting terrorists or losing your kecks over vampires. But more than that, more than anything, doing something else gives you a thread to pull. Pull harder, and you’ll find a paragraph.
Last night, I chopped a chilli and fried it off. The fumes caught in my throat. A simile fell from the cooker hood. I wrote it down.
I use my phone. It’s got Bluetooth so it can interface with my netbook. It’s full of sentences and one-liners and plot points. Now they’re down, they’re out. I can’t wait to get to the point where I use them all. They’re the checkpoints – where you can save your game, and know you’ve achieved everything before. Of course, those with pens will prosper. Luddites.
Read everything by the writer you want to be better than
Then learn to hate them. You won’t be. But that’s only because you’ll be different. You’ll be different because you’ll be too self-conscious about using their phrases, their style and their rhythm.
Read everything else in the world
Shampoo bottles are fascinating reads. Really. Look at that frothy copy, then find typos and feel smug. Tell your friends. Read the little labels you get with flowers – they teach you something. Read about the nutritional values of your chocolate bar. Read the paper. Read websites. Read the first sentences of every single book you own.
Then, go in the bathroom, put a mirror on the floor, take aim, and kick yourself up the backside.