by Sheridan Winn

‘What’s it like being a writer?’
‘Are you disciplined and start at the same time each day?’
‘Do you listen to music when you write?’
‘How many words do you write in a day?’
‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

It’s wonderful and awful; no; absolutely not (words have their own rhythm and music interrupts the flow); anything between 50 and 5000; and, I have no idea, they’re just there when I need them, I reply.

How does one explain that writing is as excruciating as it is exhilarating? Sometimes, you explain, the words creep along the page, sometimes they tumble out and, sometimes, if you’re really lucky and get ‘in the zone’, they will fly.

‘So what’s your typical day?’ they ask.

This is how it often is.
10.00am. Coffee, strong and black, or a large pot of gunpowder and mint tea with some honey; either will guarantee I will need to go to the loo umpteen times in the next hour or so.
Necessary preparation

Ready to roll

10.10am. Upstairs to my office on the second floor, I create a new Word document for Chapter Five of ‘Magic at Drysdale’s School’.

The blank page

This chapter is from my seventh Sprite Sister title. I know my characters by now. I know what peril I intend to place them in. The stories are fun to write; this should be easy. Off we go.

11.00am. Two trips to the loo, no words on the page. Go downstairs for a piece of Green & Black’s Milk Almond Chocolate and another mug of herb tea.

Well, it's necessary

11.10am. Climb the 26 stairs back up to the second floor and sit down at my desk. Get up and open the window to adjust the airflow, then go to the loo, again.

But why did I drink all that coffee?

11.15am. While I’m in the bathroom, clean my teeth to get out the almonds in the chocolate that are sticking in my ancient, receding gums. On return to my desk I find there is still one bit still stuck and which is annoying me. Return to the bathroom and start the procedure again, this time with floss.

Distraction No 23

11.25am. Teeth now free of bits. Check my email and smart phone (this is done regularly through the day). Adjust the window again.

The worst distraction

12.00pm. Answer the ringing telephone in case my aging parents have collapsed, only to find it’s a friend wanting a chat. If you have a lot of friends and a big family, you can be guaranteed frequent interruptions when you are trying to concentrate.

12.30pm. Stare out of the window. Stare at the keyboard.

Speak to me

2.00pm. 165 words now on the page. I will never get this written … Where are my characters going? I’ve had umpteen interruptions and my mind feels all over the place. 

2.30pm. Time to go for a walk. Lie flat out on the grass and do some cloud watching, then sit under a tree and wait for inspiration. Now do I know what happens next in the story, I wonder, as I return home?

I should be able to clear my mind here ...

4.00pm. Refreshed, though still undecided, I stare at the computer screen. Remind myself that I am writing this book because I want to: nobody is making me. I am enjoying it, really I am. Check my diary again. 

Do the crossword.

I should be writing, not doing this ...

5.00pm. Lie on the bed.

My back hurts

5.30pm. Back at my desk again.

Not to be beaten

5.35pm. Stare at the note I placed on the wall in front of me, some weeks ago. ‘Magic at Drysdale’s School – deadline end July 2012’, it says in large black type. Oh heck. Why didn’t I see that earlier? Four weeks and around 47,500 words to go.

Arghh.... hurry up, hurry up

In that case …  Go back down to the kitchen, get a glass of cold rosé and come back up to my seat at the computer.

6.00pm. As the day winds down and my neighbours return from their work, my mind settles and I know what my characters will do next. That’s the key – writing is easy when you have your plot clear. Within a few minutes, I’m away and into the zone. Time stands still, the noises outside the house recede and my concentration is absolute as my words zing onto the page. I'm on my way at last! 

Sheridan Winn is the author of the Sprite Sister stories. The sixth title, The Boy With Hawk-like Eyes, is available as an e-book. The first title, The Circle of Power, will be published as an e-book later this month and the other titles will follow.


Anonymous said…
Thanks for the chuckles! It gives me hope that when I finally re-commit to writing again, all my deviant behavior will once more be totally appropriate. I loved the little pictures with the captions! Judith
George Fripley said…
It's always interesting to see how other people work - thanks for sharing.

I very rarely write anything for a first draft on the computer.

I take my writing pad with me everywhere and all too often this is when I scribble down the germs of ideas, or solutions to plot problems that I have been trying to resolve just leap into my head. Sometimes I'm sitting in a cafe, sometimes on a bus or in the car, sometimes in a department store whle my wife is shopping and I'm just sitting watching people go by. When I get home I can then start off straight away with an idea and go from there.

And for me, music helps a lot - it seems to soothe me.
Lee said…
Heheh. Sounds dreadfully familiar - except that 165 words is a good day for me!

Oh wait: writing is easy when you have you plot clear? If only...
Anonymous said…
Ah, I feel your pain, I really do.
Seriously, you're absolutely right: a clear plot and a plan of the way ahead are the best cure for creative inertia. Mind you, sometimes displacement activity is useful, because it jogs your brain in ways it won't get jogged if you're just staring at a screen.
Of course, my favourite displacement activity is commenting on blogs and...
Mark Chisnell said…
OMG! This is just soooo like my days!
Susan Price said…
On the nail, Sheri! That picture of the keyboard captioned 'Speak to me!' really spoke to me.
Every first draft is like that: pulling teeth while cutting coal.
Rewrites, I find, tend to be faster and more fun.
Jan Needle said…
but you forgot the instruments. if it wasn't for days like that, i wouldn't be able to play anything at all. this morning, already, i've practised my mandola, baritone ukelele, lap organ and button accordian. apart from this scribble and a couple of bits on facebook about cally phillips's review of julia jones in IEBR (WARNING: The action's so real it'll make you sea sick and the culinary descriptions are so good you'll want to order out for Chinese. So be careful. Chinese food and sea sickness can be a powerful combination) i've achieved three fifths of five eighths of you know what. ah, a writer's life...
Sounds like my day too. Including the strong coffee followed by frequent trips to the loo! I'm always amazed by how enticing things like hoovering and dusting are when there's a deadline to be met!
CallyPhillips said…
Ah, that's what I'm doing wrong. My writing day is NOTHING like this. I g et up at 6 and if I'm writing (not every day) I'll be at it by 7.30am with NO distractions or movement till coffee at 10.0 taken at my desk and then go on till midday. Writing.
Then the rest of the stuff. I don't answer the phone. I don't have friends/family to distract. I do dog walking at 6am and after midday and then the rest of the day is spent in the other hideous activities you describe. I wish every day was as I describe. Unfortunately there are too many of the days where I CAN'T write because of the admin or business or emails or all that and if I even begin dealing with blogs and twitter there's no way I can WRITE that day. So as you'll guess, today I'm NOT writing. But the upside is, on the days I write I can get A LOT of words written. I am obviously in a very small minority but I need peace, quiet and no distractions and find that focussed concentration is what brings characters to life - that and having good structures written out in advance! Well, folks, that's the Puritan work ethic for you!
julia jones said…
Days that start all clear and really promising are almost always the worst - I begin to wonder whether, subconsciously, I mess them up on purpose ...
Anonymous said…
This is so funny! I especially like the "bits in teeth". I think I've been trying to distract myself from any work for most of my teenage and adult life, so it is comforting/worrying to know that it will continue.
Sheridan Winn said…
Thank you so much for your lovely comments, folks - much appreciated!
I am greatly relieved that I'm not the only one who has displacement activities! Best, Sheri

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