Antidotes to writing, by Ali Bacon

Not adding up
Writers write, right? And for many of us there are so many other things to do that writing fills all the available spare time that’s going. But I recently got into an odd situation of doing too much writing or applying too much of my headspace to a single writing project - and it wasn’t working. The novel had ground to a halt and parts of it had been written and rewritten to a point where I felt I was simply moving words around in the hope that they would fall into place like one of those old sliding puzzles. Of course there was no perfect solution but that didn’t stop me going round in ever-decreasing circles. I decided to down tools. Since then I have meandered back to some bits of writing but I’m a lot more aware of the importance of the other things I do and it’s made me think about how and why they contribute to my sanity.

Making and doing

Only a bit of unpicking!

I used to joke I took up writing because I was no good at knitting. But in fact that’s not true. I’m not a very ‘handy’ person, but  I like knitting and really enjoy the process of making something that doesn’t require too much fiddling. In the winter knitting also keeps me warm and it makes me feel a lot less guilty about watching TV! But why does it feel like a refreshing change from writing? Well it’s practical, with a concrete result, and more crucially, it comes with a set of instruction!  I think you get my drift. I’ve never been much of a plotter with novels, and although I’m a lot more aware these days of ‘the rules’ of writing, for me a novel is a journey of discovery. Well that’s fine, but sometimes it’s good to sit down, follow the rules, and eventually you have the finished article. I don’t really mind how long it takes, or if I have to unpick a few rows (I blame Poldark!) because success (small caveat over patterns downloaded from t’internet!) is almost guaranteed. How refreshing.

In similar vein, a year or so ago I tried my hand at calligraphy, and for a few weeks I was blissfully content to practise up and down strokes with a felt tip pen. The novelty of that part soon wore off but it reminded me that writing was also about forming words and letters, that books were originally physical artefacts, and the change of pace was definitely therapeutic. Then we moved on to projects which were much more of a creative test. We had to think about the remit, plan our response, visualise the outcome and then do it. Yes, more like a novel, and demanding in a way I hadn’t expected, but because the outcome was visual, it felt creative in a different way.
I liked it, but there was a problem. I couldn’t actually master the techniques. My results (see below!) never looked as good as I wanted them to. I could see the finished item but I couldn’t produce it. 

So I will never be a calligrapher, but it’s good to have a creative project that’s not writing-related. At the moment I have an on-going sewing project with some remnants of curtain material. I’m no psychologist but I imagine that making stuff uses different parts of the brain compared to translating the imagination into words.

A bit of singing and dancing

Calligraphy/dancing mash-up!
All kinds of exercise are good, but most of them allow the brain to keep working on other things – yes, while walking or cycling and (take it from me) even golfing, you can mull over that scene, that character that plot twist. Which can be beneficial. But I discovered that there’s a huge benefit in having the brain entirely absorbed in something else. A while ago we decided to try ballroom dancing. We’ll never be on Strictly, but just remembering the sequence of steps in the foxtrot and managing to get it right definitely does not allow for other brain activity! 

Music is a great mood-changer and singing in a choir is also about people coming together and creating something as a group, so I am always loath to miss my weekly outing to the Resound Community Choir.  

On an impulse I added a string to my musical bow by signing up to some informal music theory classes. I do have some vestigial knowledge of quavers and crochets from childhood piano lessons but I have really enjoyed finding out more about chords, scales and intervals. Thinking about it, from Latin and Greek to the basics of html I’ve always loved learning languages and I suppose musical notation is a kind of language, better still, the kind of language with a strict internal logic. A bit like a knitting pattern!  
Everyone needs recreation (that's re-creation) of some kind, and I think the activities I’ve thrown myself into have been a way of freeing up my mind from the stranglehold writing can sometimes exert. Will they take over from writing altogether? Well there have been times when I look in my diary and wonder when I’m going to find the time, but I'm not too worried. Writing has been part of my life for far too long for it to disappear completely, so watch this space!



JO said…
I agree - I walk, and I sing in a choir. which I love because it is a time when I cannot think of anything but singing, as if I do I'm the wally that comes in with the wrong note in the wrong place. Something that takes up all my headspace for a couple of hours each week is an essential antidote to the writing!
Unknown said…
Absolutely with you here. I've always knitted, love going out and taking photographs and have recently returned to crochet. Can't believe how satisfying the latter is and how quickly it comes up. In only a couple of weeks I've completed a shawl, a bolero for a young member of the family and a baby blanket for an impending arrival. Currently working on a lacy waistcoat for myself. And I've joined Ravelry, which is fun too.

Currently very near the beginning of my next novel, rocking the boulder to get it to slide easily down the hill. Really find it helpful to sit and crochet while thinking about the plot. Also find it very satisfying to complete a creative project, ie the crochet, when a novel is such a long haul.
Lydia Bennet said…
I agree, displacement activities are essential to life and writing is not all we need do - different activities feed into one another. All work and no play...
Debbie Bennett said…
I sew too - mostly curtains and other soft furnishings. I find it strangely relaxing!

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