Friday, 17 July 2009


I love structure. All kinds of structure. I've always loved numbers and mathematics, science, I make lists, I like order and rules, instructions, and I only choose symmetrical patterns when I'm going to make a new quilt. So, you'd think I'd be one of those writers who routinely writes 1000, or even 500, words every day. Or at least during a few specified timeslots every week.

But I'm not that writer.

Sure, I do schedule in writing time every week, and now that my baby is almost one, I mostly stick to it. But most of my writing, especially over the last eighteen months, has been done when I've been inspired, which is what I spoke about at the recent Emerging Writers' Festival. Certainly that's when I do my best writing.

Maybe the idea of writing when I'm inspired is crazy, but it's true that I rely to a fair degree on writing when I'm inspired (and perhaps also that I am a little husband certainly thinks so). I've been thinking about my processes and habits over the last year or so, and have found that writing when I'm inspired seems to work for me. Although there is a catch.

There's always a catch, huh. This time, though, the catch is good. The catch is fun.

The catch is that I make sure I'm inspired. I treat is as my job to be inspired. I constantly do things to catch that inspiration. Things I have learnt over the years that work, for me.

Events are the most inspiring. Festivals, author talks, poetry gigs, launches, seminars and workshops. Particularly workshops. It probably helps that I'm generally wide awake when I get home, no matter the time, because it's an hour or longer in the car. So I often write straight away, even if it's just notes. I often write notes at the event too (although I expect more than just notes from a workshop). Being a mum of three, my youngest not yet one, it's often difficult to get out, and maybe this is where the structure comes in...organising home life such that I CAN go. Planning ahead.

It's not always practical to go to an event. So, I also use 'how-to' writing books for inspiration. There are many in my bookshelves and I doubt I've ever read any of them from cover to cover. But reading a chapter, a section, maybe even just one page, can offer inspiration. And sometimes I go straight to the writing activities, not that all the books offer them. Even if the writing task doesn't offer me a new idea or help me learn something about a character/story I'm already working on, I find it useful to kick my brain into the right frame. I don't always even DO the writing activity, instead letting my mind soak it up, perhaps in images. My thoughts at the time guide me towards which writing project I should tackle.

I also take opportunities to notice what's going on around me. Characters often appear on the train, in cafes, anywhere in public. Add imagination and there's a story/poem right there.

Of course I didn't know this about myself when I started writing years ago. And perhaps this is the other catch. To get to now, I needed to trust myself, needed to be open to trying new things, to accept that sometimes I would fail, sometimes, maybe often, I would write crap, and that writing crap would be good for me. Writing crap could serve as a writing task in itself, give me practice, help me identify when something could be salvaged and when something should be abandoned. And of course, I had to be patient, to be open to getting to know myself as a writer, to learn what works for me and what helps me kick-start when I need it. To believe that I am capable. To choose to be confident.

This is where the structure comes in. In making the decisions. Writing the lists. Setting the goals, and the self-imposed deadlines.


Tony Tulloch said...

It doesn't sound crazy to me at all.

As for writing crap: give it a try. I do it all the time.

Tiggy Johnson said...

Thanks Tony. I'm sure not everything you write is crap. But, yes, I'm in favour of writing crap. If you don't give yourself permission to write crap, there's an awful lot of pressure every time you sit down to write, and you'd end up doing nothing.

Tony Tulloch said...

Oops sorry, that sounded like I was fishing for compliments. What I meant was: my first drafts are written on the fly and require a lot of cleaning up (spilling, punctuation,,,,, and the goodliest of grammar). I find it is better for me to keep with the flow, rather than worry about niceties. Writing crap is not an issue, but recognising it before you decide to submit it, is.