Writing Space by Rosie Walsh

 

I've written in hostel dormitory beds, in crowded train stations and on slender shelves surrounded by football trophies. I even had a stint writing in a beautiful - albeit very noisy - writers' cafe in Buenos Aires. These spaces had their own charm but I felt neither calm, nor joyfully creative, in any of them.  In fact I often felt foggy and anxious, and I developed all sorts of physical aches and pains. So - in short - I made some changes, and they really worked. Try them for yourself, if you're curious. 

  • SIT UPRIGHT! There's no need for a pricey desk: I've worked successfully at ยฃ10 fold-out tables. It's more about getting out of your bed or off your sofa, and maintaining good posture. There's a brilliant Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy - here - about the relationship between posture and feelings of power, clarity, and positivity. Just raising your chin can change the way you think and feel!
  • KEEP IT TIDY. People often mock me for my tidy desk. And a few years ago, I'd have mocked me too. But since I committed to keeping my desk tidy, my writing time has been vastly more pleasurable. Some bloke called Einstein said that an empty desk may well be a sign of an empty mind, but what did he know about anything? Besides, my desk isn't empty. It's just tidy.
  • MAKE IT NICE. A friend of mine is writing a novel during her lunch hour at work. Come 1pm she clears the contents of her desk into a box, which she puts under her desk. She puts out a holiday picture and a pot plant and switches on a lamp. Suddenly, even though she's in the middle of a busy office, she's got a space that feels nice. She puts on some headphones and writes like the clappers, and she gets a lot done. I endorse her approach. Have some hand cream on your desk. A nice candle. A plant. Pictures, nice notebooks, flowers, a favourite book. Anything, as long is it gives you a warm feeling whenever you look at it. Because writing is hard. Even on a good day, you'll need treats.

 

 

Pomodoros by Rosie Walsh

Rosie Walsh on the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method (the website explaining it all is here) and it's hands-down the most valuable writing tool I've ever learned. Taking it on board has completely transformed my working life. It's enabled me to cut my working hours by half, to get all of my other tasks done and - most importantly - it's brought a sense of real calm to my writing practice. Which is no small matter. 

Sometimes, when I tell people that I do it, they say, 'Oh, yeah, that thing where you work for twenty-five minutes and then take a five minute break? Yeah, I tried that.' The PT is so very much more than just a timer. If you want to give it a go, read everything you can find on the website, or, better still, buy the book. I think it's a bloody miracle. 

 

Get out by Rosie Walsh

Rosie Walsh at Ashton Court Bristol

The idea of holing myself up for an intensive day's writing used to make sense to me, but - as with so many things that I took to be the bread and butter of a writer's life - I've discovered that it's a waste of time. On days like that I would sometimes write a few more words than normal, but they'd be crap words and would always end up being deleted. I'd also finish those sorts of days feeling shaky and dizzy and would struggle to string a sentence together. My brain is not designed to generate non-stop creative content, and I doubt anyone else's is either. 

Nowadays, I'm, all about breaks. Taken outdoors.

Taking time to get outdoors somehow creates a whole load more writing time. I haven't a clue how or why this works, but it does. (It is also the best way I know to solve plot problems.)

I'll go for a walk; a run; a cycle up the nearest hill. Even if I've got a cold, and it's winter, and I want to rot in my fuggy, germ-filled bed, I take a chair and a blanket outside and I'll sit, watching the birds, smelling the air, feeling like a human in the world, as opposed to a mad writer in a room. 

Take a dog; don't take a dog. Go rural, go urban. Just get out of your house and get moving.

 

Planning by Rosie Walsh

Rosie Walsh planning a novel with tea and chocolate cheesecake

Planning's a divisive issue. There's people who plot out their whole novel in advance. There's the ones who sit down with no idea at all. And there's a great sea of in-betweeners, who start with a vague beginning, middle and end and hope they'll be able to join the dots.

I've tried all of the above. All have driven me mad, in different ways, but the more books I write, the clearer it seems that good planning = good writing. Here's what I do. 

1. I sit down in a nice environment, ideally with something delicious and bad. As pictured. I free-write for about two pomodoros' worth of time, sketching out the main things I want to happen.

2. I then get out my post-it notes. Julie Cohen is the master of post-it planning. If you can get to one of her lectures on post-its (or indeed anything), go. I write vague scenes on post-it notes and stick them on a wall.  I colour-code, I move post-its around, I scribble over and replace them constantly. But before long, a whole story emerges. 

The first time I tried this approach I was astonished by how quickly I went from a one-sentence idea to a fully-planned novel. It took about three days. Previous methods - mostly involving complex plans of tens of thousands of words - have taken three weeks; sometimes three months. The economy of the post-it is the key to its success. And the portability.  IT'S BRILLIANT. 

3. Then I start writing the thing.

4. Needless to say, the book will take charge of itself after a certain time, and your post-its will need updating. When I'm about halfway through I turn my post-its into a table, in which a more detailed description of each scene is nested with dates, times of day; that sort of thing. I maintain this table right through to my final edit and I refer back to it constantly. It's particularly useful when my copy editor sends me a polite note telling me that one of my supporting cast has been pregnant for 2.5 years, or that three members of my supporting cast have the same name. 

5. I don't use Scrivener. Everyone tells me it will change my life - will damned nearly plan and write the book for me - but I find the whole thing slightly daunting. Maybe I'll get over this for my next book. Probably not. 

Mental attitude by Rosie Walsh

Rosie Walsh novelist writing room

This is my Hmmm. Something about that sentence isn't quite right face.

Things can escalate quickly, when you're stuck in a silent room with a disastrous manuscript and no idea what to do about it. In the early days I'd go quite crazy when things weren't coming together (and as a general rule, it takes about a year for things to come together. So that's a lot of crazy.) 

Writing is my job; I have deadlines and contractual obligations. Crazy puts all of those under threat. It also diminishes the quality of my work and makes me think I dislike writing. (I don't dislike writing.) Staying positive and calm, therefore, have become as important to me as owning a computer or eating my lunch. 

I think there's a lot of guff out there about positive thinking. It's not about smiling joyfully through a bereavement, or congratulating the person who just mugged you. Nor is it about squashing down valid feelings, or pretending things are fine when they are not. Positive thinking is simply about getting into the best possible mental state for the situation you're in. The most helpful state. The most appropriate state. And as a general rule, tearful hysteria isn't a helpful or appropriate response to a plot problem - I've tried it enough times to be certain. Grim determination might be the best you can manage, on a day like that, but it's a lot more helpful than the alternative.

I won't go into the tools I use to stave off the crazies. They're just what works for me, and everyone's got some way of lifting their mood: meditation, affirmations, music, doughnuts, yoga, phone calls to good friends, NLP,  visualisation - if it works for you, it's the right one. The important thing is to do it!

 

 

Reading by Rosie Walsh

Rosie walsh novelist writing tips

I couldn't write books if I didn't read as much as I do. Even if I'm on a deadline I'll be reading something - I've even been known to put reading into my pomodoro breaks.

Of course, there are difficulties with reading-while-writing. The worst being that you're halfway through a storyline when you realise that it's remarkably similar to one written by someone else. You stop writing; panic; try to re-imagine your entire plot. (My advice: forget about it. Whatever you're writing, there will always be someone in the world who's written something similar.)

Or there's the one where you realise you've spent a week writing in the style of the author you've just read. (My advice: go back and delete all those bits. Your own voice will inevitably return and you'll be left with a strange and stylistically incongruous outburst in the middle of your manuscript that your editor is bound to spot.)

But these pitfalls are minor compared to the idea of a life without books. Read! Read! Read! ALWAYS!