This week I acquired a puppy. He’s cute and cuddly. He has droopy ears that drag in his water bowl, a waggly tail, and a sweet face. He also has a wide range of needs and if they don’t get met you’re in for a whole world of whining, barking, and accidental emissions of bodily fluids. The dog has capricious moods and humours. One minute he wants to lie on your lap and have his tummy tickled, the next he wants to chew up your feet. He digs entire tunnels in the garden (how?). He eats stones, laptop cables, shoes, and rubbish. He barks if you ignore him for two minutes. He jumps on the keyboard and deletes precious words. In short, if you don’t take care of the dog, he’ll let you know about it.
So here’s today’s spurious link to the writing process. Having now adjusted to my third month working from home – has it really been that long! Time flies etc. – I’ve realised there are certain things writers need. Scribes, you may want to send this to your family, your housemates, and your second-cousins-twice-removed. That way they’ll know how to look after you and you won’t be forced to utilise their shoes as a lavatory. Because unless you are a cute puppy with dark sorrowful eyes, this isn’t the way to win friends and influence people.
The care and feeding of a writer:
Nourishment – writers need to feed themselves. Not just with chocolate cake and biscuits, although those are welcome. We also need stories, books, films, hell, even episodes of Friends on a loop, sometimes. Ideas are like plants blooming in waste ground – the seeds have to come from somewhere. If we’re slumped on the sofa watching How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, while shovelling Kettle Chips into our mouths, it’s probably highly essential thinking time, so go away and stop asking if you can watch Match of the Day. You’re derailing the creative process, probably.
Massage – not just a bit of shiatsu action, to soothe the aching shoulders of hours hunched over a laptop, but also some light ego-massage. It’s not easy spending hours pounding out words, then putting them out for people to see and judge. Having your work pulled apart and prodded, snipped and tucked. Sometimes we want and need robust feedback, but don’t forget to pay us lovely compliments, and if we’re feeling low, just tell us everything we’ve written is entirely amazing and we don’t need to move so much as a comma on page 24.
Distractions – Jingly toys, chew sticks, and squeakers – dogs have all the fun. Writers have Twitter. And Facebook. And blogs. And seventeen different email accounts. Anything to avoid typing the next line in our opus. The trick is to distract the conscious part of the mind with fluff, while some deeper part churns out the deep ideas. And of course the most important thing is….ooh, look, a jingly thing!
Exercise – Writers get fat. You sit on your arse all day frowning at a small screen (writers also probably get wrinkles early). So we need actual exercise, if we are to preserve any semblance of our former beauty. But we also need to exercise our writing muscles. This might mean trying things that don’t work, pushing ourselves in new ways, and possibly some light sweating/panting/groaning. If we end up throwing out much of what we do, that’s us flexing our muscles, to hopefully get better. And like exercise, you can’t let up with writing. A day without writing means that tomorrow, it will be harder. Even a weekend can mean the muscles ache again on Monday and it takes that bit longer to find our stride. So if we can’t do any housework or gardening or go to the shops at the weekend, this is why. Honest guv.
Rest – When the book’s really going well it’s hard to switch off. We might find ourselves lying awake puzzling out the solution to a plot point, or plagued by ideas, scribbling in the dark on bits of scrap paper. So we need sleep. Equally, we might also need to switch off from writing for a while, or do something easier. Like write shopping lists, or read a book. This may contradict what I just said above, but remember, like dogs, writers are also capricious creatures. Now, where’s my chew toy?