Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Secret Life of Writers

As you can see from Dave's last post, writers are being asked to do more to promote their books. And, if you are anything like me, you're finding it is all a bit overwhelming. By the time you've twittered, written your prerequisite blogs, answered all the emails on your different email lists, attended conventions and writers festivals, supported friends at their book launches, helped out the writing community by judging competitions for free and kept on top of your private life, there's not a lot of time left for writing.

So today, I thought I'd write about the Secret Life of Writers, the time we spend inside our heads, that magical creative time.

We writers need quiet time. When you saw us pottering around in the garden or doing the ironing, we weren't really there. We were off on a space station battling aliens, down a dark alley dicing with vampires or galloping across a misty moor looking for dragon eggs as we sorted out plot problems. We need that quiet, reflective time to mull over the intricacies of character, plot and world building so that the gems can percolate up to the surface.

We need input. Writers tend to be solitary people, much happier observing life and the crazy things people do, then standing in the lime light. Everything from the evening news, to something overheard on the train, can trigger a 'what if' moment. I catch a lot of trains and, for some reason, people talk to me. You would be amazed the things people have told me, heartrending stories of loss, stories about the triumph of the human spirit. I find people fascinating, maybe because my 'inner writer' is always trying to understand what makes us tick.

And we need time to write. Because it takes time to wrestle a story out of the ether. Sometimes we need to write the first three chapters before we realise we've started the book in the wrong place. Sometimes we have to drag the story out kicking and screaming. And then there are the days when it flows so fast we can't type quickly enough.

I was sitting in the hallway at the gym today, waiting for yoga to start and one of the gym instructors asked if I was OK. I was. I was miles away, on the Shallow Sea, with one of my characters, trying to solve a plot glitch.

If it was easy to be creative everyone would be an inventor, writer, artist or musician. Here's some tips on how to tap into your inner creativity from New Scientist.

When do you do your best creative thinking? Late a night when it is quiet? First thing in the morning before the family gets up? Or can you day dream in the midst of chaos?


Dave Freer said...

My best thinking? In the bath. (ie. once a year. I really should try it more often even if it isn't good for you, and means moving the coal ;-)). Seriously, anywhere with distraction is bad for me. A bath is warm, comfy and most often boring.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

If you can't think with distraction, Dave, it's just as well you didn't have 6 kids!

Amanda Green said...

Is this where I admit I have to tell my characters NOT to come out when I'm driving down the highway? That, for some reason, seems to be when they seem to want to come out and "talk" to me. It isn't so bad when someone else is doing the driving, but when I'm the driver, it can be a tad dangerous. Other than that, when I'm working out, working in the yard, basically, any time I can be alone to hear my thoughts with no interruptions.

Tip of the day -- mp3 players and their ilk are your friends. Put in the headphones and folks will most often leave you alone. Of course, you don't have to turn on the music, just let the thoughts flow with few interruptions. ;-)

Anonymous said...


My Characters like to work out their story while I'm driving, too. I find that I can drive and listen to music, or drive and plot. Not all three. Those radio-free miles between Houston and Denton are guaranteed productive. In city traffic I turn up the volume and chase them into hiding.

Now that I think about it, I had a huge writing burst shortly after Kid #2 moved out. All sorts of ideas that had probably been percolating somewhere deep inside just flowed out. Now I've come to a different stage, nice and quiet internally. Trying to turn the former spewings into something someone will publish.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, glad I'm not the only one. The drive between DFW and College Station is a very productive one most times. Hopefully, this year my son won't have all the medical issues he did last and those drives won't be quite as nerve-wracking as last year.

John Lambshead said...

I find that half a bottle of a decent red works wonders for my hinner creutive shelf, hic,

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Amansda, I'm so glad, I'm not the only one.

I find myself arriving at places and not remembering how I got there, because I've been thinking about my current WIP. Automatic pilot.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, another driver-thinker.

You're right about ideas needing to percolate. And then rising to the surface when the moment is right and they are ready.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

John, a good wine is what we work on at my writers retreats.

I'm only half joking. One of our group is an amazing cook. He prepares a wonderful meal. We all sit around eating good food, drinking good wine, in great company, talking and laughing and the ideas just come.

Chris McMahon said...

This is really interesting, Rowena. I have never thought about when I am most creative, only about when I can actually manage to squeeze in some writing time. I'll have to reflect on it.

I think I go through phases with creativity. The whole flow of it has definitely taken a nose-dive since I've had kids. I put that down to lack of sleep and lack of time to feed my mind like I used to with SF&F and weird and wonderful concepts.

I think I have also been in the middle of really big novel projects. So the level of creativity is more into solving plot problems and injecting ideas into the stories rather than the Wow! ideas that drive new projects.

I'll be sure to stare at some blue things today:)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I think you're right. You need to 'feed your mind' with all sorts of novel concepts,so it can mull them over and make connections.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

While doing housework or painting walls. Also while going for walks. But if I'm stuck on a plot, I get my wonderful husband to take me on a night drive. One or two hours. by the time we arrive, everything is solved.

Unfortunately I also go into plot mode while driving. I once was supposed to teach at the airforce base (then about half an hour away) and only realized I had lost track of time when I realized I was in Denver, then an hour and a half away. Fortunately my students a) thought it was funny. b) had waited.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I see a pattern. Does anyone know about the state of the brain while zen driving vs creating? Does one cause the other, or is it just that we're away from the usual distractions and can't surf the internet, nag a kid about his homework, or read a book instead?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I completely understand how you could end up in Denver!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I think that we can drive while on automatic, so the brain of creative people switches over into it's default setting, which is to mull over things.

I just realised that the 'creative people' comment could be taken as elitist.

All my friends are writers, my husband and all my children are creative types. So I really don't know what goes on in other people's heads.

I did see a piece of 'art' by a photographer who was in Denmark (?). He stood on a street corner and stopped people and asked them what they were thinking about in the moment before he stopped them. He asked if he could take their photograph and use their comments for his 'art'.

It was really interesting. Most people were planning their day. One guy was thinking about an obscure piece of history. Someone else had seen someone go by in a car and was creating a back story for them.

I suppose if you were really interested, you could wander around and take snap shots of people's minds like this and then ask what they did for a living and make a comparative study of the kind of things that occupied the minds of people in creative lines of work.

Just a thought.