A (probably daft) late-night theory about writing

I’ve just finished the first draft of a story for my BSFA Orbiter writing group (at the moment it’s called Underground Railroad, and is a story full of hope, warm feelings and Care Bears). Although I could just be talking nonsense through the afterglow of finishing a story of some length (about 4,800 words, which is hardly huge, but it’s rather longer than flash) it’s given me something to mull over concerning writing.

Writing fiction is hard for me. Some part of my brain is very lazy, and it likes to avoid hard work. This seems a little strange to the conscious side of me because 1.) I actually do far more with my time than many people I know, and 2.) when I start writing I am generally very happy with what comes out (sometimes something jarring will stop me – like ridiculous asides and parentheses that ruin the flow of prose – but for the most part my first draft is fine right up until changes need making after I get crits back about theme, character and structure. You know, the big stuff). But this is how I seem to regard these things: nasty old hard work and effort. So for me the hardest part about writing fiction, and to a lesser extent all writing, is persuading myself that I should get on and do it.

I’ve tried all the usual tricks: setting a daily or weekly target, offering to reward myself, trying to punish myself, adopting a worldview or lifestyle that encourages writing, using tools and spreadsheets, putting dictionaries and notepads in convenient places, buying a dictaphone to record ideas, sticking inspirational quotes everywhere, leaving unfinished stories in files on my computer desktop… if you write and lack real discipline, you probably know the sort of thing I mean.

But finishing this story off tonight has made me think something (probably daft): I’ve never really considered my, you know, physiological state of being.

By which I mean I’m feeling quite tired.

I’m not very tired, like I was last night. Staying up until the wee hours drinking delicious wine, smoking nasty cigarettes, and singing along to old Against Me! songs will leave one tired the following evening after a full day at work. But I’m not particularly refreshed or full of energy: I got some sleep last night, not too much, but just enough.

And tonight when I sat down to write I fell into the trance of it pretty quickly, just totally focused on writing, on letting the prose flow out and looking at it and nodding and deliberating over the correct word to use but never getting distracted. That’s perhaps a good word to focus on: distracted. I wasn’t distracted because I was tired enough to be single-minded, but I was able to write because I wasn’t so tired that I just chilled out with some entertainment “for a bit”.

Then again I’m also quite hungry, so maybe it’s that. The Gaslight Anthem sing, “stay hungry, stay free, and do the best that you can.” They might be on to something.

Or I’m actually (and this is an ever-present fear of mine when in the company of Smarts) just stating, in an overly verbose fashion, something that has been perfectly evident to everyone else for a jolly long time.


I think I’d better eat something and get a half-decent night’s sleep.

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