I am sitting by a pool as I write this. I swim most days and I don’t feel guilty that I am not at my desk. There, I said it.
It is probably because some of my best ideas come to me while I am swimming. Driving too is another time I have ideas. Or hoovering. Strangely anything to do with momentum. I remember the moment I came up with the idea for my debut novel, it was standing up, on a tube train.
If you’re stuck when writing, it can often be when you go and distract yourself with someone else that the answer comes to you: walking, chatting, shopping, cooking. It’s the same as those ideas that creep into your brain just as you’re about to drift off to sleep. It is as if, when your mind is relaxed or distracted by something else – the more mundane, the better – the answer you have been wracking your brains for is allowed to float gently to the surface and reveal itself to you.
I have told the story before of how when I was working with Wendy Mitchell on her bestselling book Somebody I Used to Know, her subconscious brain would deliver answers to my questions in her sleep. She would make notes in scratchy sleep-induced handwriting and What’s App me the next day saying: ‘Does this mean anything to you?’ And I would reply: ‘Yes, we were discussing this yesterday.’ I was always fascinated how even a brain that has dementia can deliver memories when it is at its most relaxed – why should it be any different from the rest of us?
This week, one of my mentees told me she felt bad for not writing, and I reminded her that writing does not only take place when we are bum in chair, fingertips to keyboard. It is happening all the time – even when we don’t realise it.
If you are a writer, you never really switch off. I have long accepted that staring out of the window in a daydream is an important part of the process. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about it. As I refuse to feel guilty for sitting all day and reading a book. That’s the petrol I stick in my tank. It is necessary. You can’t have that create output without replenishing the stocks.
One of my mentees is writing about the nineties at the moment, and she felt bad that the closest she had got to writing one night was watching a documentary about The Spice Girls. That is ok. Absorbing yourself in that kind of nostalgia counts too, particularly if you are writing in a different era, it’s getting into character, setting, fashion, music, hairstyles. It all counts.
Anyone who works out will know that the rest days are just as important as the ones when you exercise. It is no different with writing. I often find that if I have an excellent day’s writing, the next day I’m left unable to put a single word down. I know there are some people who are convinced that you should turn up to your desk every day, come what may. But that’s not the philosophy that I subscribe to.
So go easy on yourself, we are not machines, the treadmill of life is tiring in itself. Put your feet up, with a book/in front of the telly/next to the pool and do NOT feel guilty. The words will come easier that way.