Writers write, don’t they?

seagulls and fishing

I took this action shot out fishing a couple of weeks ago. I get a real kick out of watching them feed as we gut the day’s catch and share our feed with some feathered friends

To be a writer you have to write, that is true, but I believe that you also have to live life to the fullest to be able to write well. That means looking after your health and mental health, stimulating your curiosity and experiencing new things. You also have to make sure you have enough time out to let the ideas, characters and stories in your brain settle. Like Helen Moorhouse wrote recently, perhaps you don’t need to be writing to write!

This is a concept that I’ve struggled to come to terms with. When I gave up my city job to pursue a writing career a couple of years ago, I thought I had to sit at my desk for eight hours every day, slogging away no matter what the outcome. True, some writers do work like this, but for me, it’s not productive.

It’s taken some time to figure out and lots of jiggling and reworking of schedules, but I’ve found that after a certain amount of time, my writing suffers and my ideas channel themselves down one dull, lonely path.

Like Niamh Boyce and many others, I’m an intuitive writer, so I write a ‘draft zero’ without any planning and see where the characters and story lead me. I often have a name or a feeling, a sense of what a character is experiencing in my mind, but other than that, it’s a free for all. And sitting there for eight hours in a day does not work if you write this way.

Sometimes I get a powerful writing bug and my bum-glue seems more adhesive than usual – I can certainly edit/redraft for long periods of time –  but when I’m starting a new project, I tend to write in bursts. An hour here, half hour there, two hours later. I split the writing up over the day (especially in winter when the nights are long) and let my brain unwind and tick over in between.

autumn in ireland

Sometimes I’ll be helping with hay bales, sometimes I’ll be taking walks and admiring the newly cut silage or painting big X’s on the wrapper to deter the crows.

I take walks, swim, garden, cook, read, watch films and documentaries, I go fishing or meet up with friends for tea, then start all over again. This means that each time I sit down, my brain is recharged, my body energised and it’s like I’m writing for the first time that day.

I do work as well – part time in a bookshop and part time with my own social media business – and these provide a good distraction, balancing out the hours spent alone at a computer. Work makes me appreciate all the free time I have to write, but I still dream of the day when I can just write.

I attempt to take days off from both writing and work to fully recharge, but I find this extremely difficult to do and if I don’t elope from the village for the day then I’ll find myself doing one or the other (usually both).

So what’s this post all about? I guess it’s two things. Firstly – it’s OK not to be writing sometimes and secondly – we all have to find a way to write that works for us.

I’m always interested in the writing process and how other writers handle their work/life balance, how they keep motivated and get the best possible results. Does any of the above sound familiar to you or do you work completely differently? Are you an eight hours a day person or a short bursts devotee? I’d love to hear all about it.

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3 thoughts on “Writers write, don’t they?

  1. Susie says:

    I have to be disciplined and write 8 hours a day – and the rest! Or I’d never have succeeded as a full-time writer. That said, I do find holidays give me a burst of ideas which can be really beneficial when I get back in terms of pitching and securing writing work.

    However, if I went swimming, had another job, went out for drinks, fishing, watched films, etc etc, I can’t imagine how I would ever get enough work done to justify my existence as a full-time writer. It leaves me thinking that perhaps some of your blitz hours might be more intense and productive than mine. 🙂

    • ERMurray says:

      Thanks for the comment, Susie, I really appreciate it. I admire your eight hours a day, every day, routine. It’s not easy to maintain.
      When I’m writing, I work very intensely. You could walk past me and I wouldn’t even know you were there. I used to write for much longer, but I’ve found that now I don’t need as much time (or at least, in one sitting) to produce the same amount of work. I can clock up a good six or eight hours in a day but I do work in bursts, so say 2 hours writing, then an hour’s fishing, followed by more writing, then walk the dog, followed by more writing etc. If my day isn’t varied, I find myself slowing down and less productive. I also need to counter the hours sat in front of the screen with lots of exercise and fresh air. The variety and intense writing sessions give me focus and let things tick over in the meantime.
      Saying that, however, this is just what works for me right now. I’ve had several different writing routines in the past so don’t be surprised if you see a completely different approach in the future! It would also make a difference if writing was my income. Do you stick to the same routine or have your habits changed? Happy writing, by the way 🙂

      • susie8765 says:

        I tend to stick to a routine – when I started out it was pitching in the mornings and writing in the afternoons. Then when I started to get enough work in so that I didn’t need to spend every morning pitching, I did more writing, but some days I’m more productive than others. I have a weakness for getting distracted by social media, but when I’m engrossed in a project, I crack right on and have a good day. Going out for anything more than a walk can really throw me, but I do love your approach of going out and then having a really productive blitz.

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