Thursday, November 26, 2009

When routine becomes a rut

When I read Jen’s most excellent post this week, I had to smile. I’d already started on my own post, and what Jen wrote about so passionately – and truthfully - is the flip-side of what my post is about – when writing becomes such an all-consuming part of your life that you get stuck in a big old, creativity-squishing rut. (ETA – and I’ve just read Kristen’s post. LOL! What can I say? Great minds ….)

When my youngest child started school in August, I decided the time had come to get serious about writing; to roll up my sleeves and put in as much time as I could muster, just to see what I could actually do. I figured it’d also be good to test whether I could handle writing to a deadline, and so I self-imposed a December 31st finish date for my MS. If – no, be positive Rachel - when I am published, deadlines will become a part of my writing life, the “I don’t feel like writing today” refrain just won’t cut it any more, and I had to see whether I could do it.

With all this in mind (and with the overwhelming need to just be finished with my bloody SFD) I began to devote every spare moment I could to writing (but note – “every spare moment” in reality translates to the windows of time when my kids are in school or asleep; the times when I’m not dashing to the shop because there’s nothing left to eat in the house; the times when I’m not reluctantly doing the cleaning so we don’t all die of some horrible bacterial infection ... that sort of thing. Oh, and I also have to sleep!)

So, since August my time has been allocated in this order of priorities – family, then writing, then exercise, and lastly (where it firmly belongs IMO), housework. On a rough average, I’d say that I’ve clocked about three hours of writing a day. Not stellar, but still, it’s a solid effort.

So, all’s good, right?

Erm, no.

The trouble is, I’ve become a bit of a hermit. No, a LOT of a hermit. If I didn’t go to the shops and make small talk with the cashier or have a five-minute chat with the other mums when collecting the offspring from school, I seriously would not speak to another adult all day. And the trouble with all this, as far as writing is concerned, is that while the imaginary world in my book may be fun to live in, not having a real life has led to a bit of a creative burn out. I’m close to being done with my SFD, but man, are these last few scenes coming hard. True, I’m writing some of the most difficult, climactic scenes in my book; but still, I’m sure that all this closeting away of myself has drained my creative well.

I hadn’t quite realised I’d got to this stage until last weekend, when my DH and I took off for a couple of days away in the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s most beautiful wine growing regions. Ah, the hills covered with neatly ordered vines, the golden shimmer of just-browned-off grass, the strangers (some lovely, some kooky) we struck up conversations with in the wine tasting rooms, the smell of the cellars, like musty, wine-soaked cork a chunk of my book is set in a wine growing region of France, and with all this real-life stimulation, my synapses were a-firing! Ideas for some of these harder scenes started to flow, and though time will tell whether they’re actually any good, the experience made me realize – man, I gotta get a life.

Now, a getaway like that is a rare occurrence, but it started me thinking about all the things I’d given up to focus on my writing, and whether I’d been a little too ruthless.

For example, I cut out my daily walks in favour of sessions in the gym, and at home on the exercise bike from hell (oh, how I loathe thee, damn bike!). The latter give me the same level of exercise as a walk, but much quicker, leaving more time free for writing … however, there’s something about being out in the fresh air and taking note of the world around me that would always fire off a zillion ideas for plot twists and character development in my head. This never happens when I’m flogging myself on that bloody bike, or in the gym.

TV is another activity that’s gone by the wayside. I virtually never watch it these days. But I remember how something like a really well-structured episode of Dr Who could inspire me to think about the shape of my own book, or how a really interesting and off the wall character in a movie would get me thinking “hmmm,” in a good way.

And then I started thinking about all the other things I could do, but I don't – like catching up with my girlfriends for coffee more than twice a year, ambling around the art gallery without the kids in tow for a change, exploring bits of my city I’ve never been to before … anything to feed my mind, so I have something to draw on for inspiration other than the four walls of my study. Because really, if we don’t get out in the real world and mix with all sorts of real people and have new adventures and experiences, how on earth can we, as writers, expect to fuel our creativity?

So that’s my challenge - to get back out in the world. Maybe not until the week after next, though. I still really *really* want to finish my SFD before the kids start their long summer holidays, but after that – watch out world!

What about you? What do you do to top up your well of creativity when it’s running dry?


  1. Rachel,

    FANTASTIC post! I've totally experienced where you're at. LOL. There have been times when I just needed to stop writing and get out and do something. It's amazing how a little "play/Jen time" can really get the fires going again. One such moment happened while I was writing FI -- called Narc back then. I remember just being...bah, just being ICK. I couldn't write another word. Nothing was coming to me. So, I decided to go out. Held a wine tasting at my house, followed by dancing at a club...eighties night. LOL. It was SO much fun. And while I've totally forgotten all about my book so I can shake my tailfeather, it suddenly hits me... THIS..THIS loud club, this dancing, this meat market thing..HAS to be in the book. Cuz Maddy would HATE it. LOL.

    Hence one of my favorite all time scenes was born...which led to an even better one down the road. All because I decided to take a night off.

    The mind is truly a mystery. :)


  2. Hear hear! I tend to get a case of thesaurisitis coupled with copy-the-tone-of-the-latest-book-I-read-itis if I spend too much time locked away, trying to write. Nothing better to get the juices flowing than getting out into the real world and hearing real people talking!

  3. Rachel, I so know what you are saying because I'm righ there right now. I work from home and the only people I see are in the supermarket or fellow dog walkers. In my case though I think I need to get back to the gym (where there are other people),get a new hobby that takes me out of the house and I don't know what...
    I feel so busy, and really I'm not. I have hours in a day I could be doing stuff other than my editing/magazine running work but I feel guilty if I take time away when I could be doing housework. Writing is my guilty pleasure that I feel should be done in real down time.
    Gosh I'm tired and not making sense, but yes, I see exactly where you're coming from. And I've nearly got a SFD too!!! Yay.

  4. Rachel-- Thank you for this! I think I'll print it out and hang it over my desk. I DO have to get out more, stop and smell the roses etc.