Things that stop you writing, by Elizabeth Kay

 As I sit here with this file open in front of me, an entire roll of kitchen towels to my right, antihistamine eye drops to my left, and a large glass of water to counteract the drying-out effect of Cetirizine allergy tablets, I am convinced that hayfever is the worst enemy of creativity there is. Of course, a couple of years ago I would have said the same about psoriasis on my fingertips, as typing with plasters on them is not the most accurate way to work. Then there’s backache, toothache, headache, broken bones, pulled muscles. And the accompanying drugs to combat these may cloud your mind or make you fall asleep. But there are so many other things that can frustrate the urge to finish that poem, or start that novel.

            Insects. The drone of a mosquito is enough to distract anyone, because you know that if you don’t get it the little beast will bite you, and give you nasty red lumps that will itch like mad for days. But getting rid of it causes all sorts of other problems, as if you flail wildly around attempting to swat it you may swat something else entirely, such as a cup of tea or your computer. I advise insect repellent or a head net. The same is true of bees, although we’re meant to be kind to bees. I keep a glass and a small sheet of cardboard handy. I trap the bee when it lands on the window, slide the carboard underneath and release the critter outside, when it usually flies off as though the hounds of hell are after it. Bees in the conservatory that abuts my office are rather more of a problem, as they will always go for the highest point which is out of reach and buzz despairingly. I keep a broom with natural bristles close by, as a bee may well think it’s just discovered a bush and crawl onto it, and I can usually simply carry it outside, when it flies off in a disorientated sort of way, circling around a bit before it remembers which way is home. Wasps are different. I grew up in a cake shop, and they were the arch enemies. They don’t cooperate with bristly brushes, either. Enough said. Ants can be a real nuisance, and I have to resort to ant powder which they carry back to the nest.

            Relatives. Small children, long phone calls, unexpected visitors. Enough said.

            Barking dogs. I have no answer here. I don't think a shotgun or a catapult would be allowed.

            Heat. We don’t have air conditioning, as in the UK the idea of it ever being too hot seems impossible until it actually happens. Fans seem to be the only answer, and cold drinks. Beware of too many glasses of Tom Collins or Pimms, as you may end up writing something else entirely to the task you set yourself. If you have one of those Dolce Gusto machines I can recommend Cappuccino Ice. (Short break here, to actually go and make one. Yum.) There are those gel things you put in the fridge. They work well, but don’t last long enough, so you need a team of three of them and a rota. One on the back of your neck or another area of your anatomy, one waiting to come out of the fridge, and one you’ve just put back in there. And if it’s all got too much, you can go and read something set in prehistoric Antarctica, such as my book Ice Feathers.

            Cold. Yes, we’re far more used to this in the UK. I have to admit my life took an upturn when I actually got the radiator in my office fixed. But it’s not always enough, so I have a snuggly blanket to put over my knees, and a couple of Warmies. These are fluffy animals you put in the microwave, and the heat lasts a couple of hours. So I have a team of two, as it only takes ninety seconds to heat one of them up, and I can even use both of them... Hot drinks come into their own, with hot chocolate top of the list and mocha a close second. And of course you need comfort food in really cold weather, generally of a sweet persuasion, but I try to make sure my chocolate bars are very dark as you can’t eat too much of them and, after all, they are good for you. They contain antioxidants. An alternative is sugar-free butterscotch drops, only fourteen calories per sweet – and as you suck them, they last ages. Or you can give up and go and read something set in a warm climate, such as my book Lost in the Desert.

            Extraneous noise. And lastly, as I’m just dealing with things that affect my concentration, there is building work. At the moment I have it on both sides. It’s been going on for nearly a year, and will probably last a lot longer as one side keeps making serious mistakes and having to redo things, and the other side is building an entire house and runs out of money now and again. I have had to cope with Kango drills digging up floors just a few yards from my office, plasterboard being sawn up outside which fills the air with dust, drains being re-sited, the list goes on and on. On one side they’re nice, and do their best to be helpful. The other side is being turned into flats by a company, who keep sending in different contractors and leaving the doors open so that the sound is almost unbearable. They range from the kind and understanding to the “Tough. I’ve got a living to earn.” I bought some ear defenders which reduce the noise level considerably, but not altogether. I’m not one of those people who can block out noise with music, I need silence or close to it. So long walks have been one solution. I set myself a plotting task, or something similar, and try to come back with new ideas. Of course, this is no good if you don’t remember them the moment you walk through the front door. Saying them out loud to myself often works, and doesn’t seem as mad as it used to because people are always taking on their phones. Otherwise, I make notes on my phone.

        I’d be interested to know what other writers find equally frustrating…


Susan Price said…
Lord, Liz, I'm sorry to hear about your noise problem. Builders on both sides! That's inhumane. I don't think I could bear it and it must be driving you bonkers. Try not to do anything desperate with an axe. By rights, any jury would free you, but you can't always count on juries. There may be builders on the one you draw.

Which answers your question. I find noise hardest to bear, whether I'm trying to write or not.
Bees and cats for me - I open the conservatory door to let the cats go in and out instead of having to keep jumping up and opening it, and the bees come buzzing in. We have a long-handled brush to guide them out gently (!) although sometimes shouting at them helps. I find myself cruelly taunting them by shouting 'no wonder you're almost extinct'.
Elizabeth Kay said…
Thank you both for making me laugh!
Joy Margetts said…
It's really not his fault...but my husband... and his noisy tap -tapping keyboard that sounds like he is trying hard to shout his emails. And having to be party to his work zoom meetings; resisting the urge to comment, laugh out loud, or walk behind him wearing something ridiculous... the hazards of having to be out of our home so that we can have building work done (ahem, coughs embarassingly, - I do feel for our neighbours - honest!) Being forced to share one room, that is lounge, dining room, office and everything else for the two of us, has definitely affected my output. Dreaming of returning to my little writing spot, in my newly renovated home... by which time he will be retired!!
Great post. Made me smile. (I trap and release bees too. I have found that if you kill a wasp however, he sends out a dying signal to his mates and then you have a recurring problem, so I try to just shoo them out too..!)

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