Writing Without a Goal

Most days, I sit down and I write copy for one client or another. Sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes it’s incredibly dry and other times it’s frustratingly vague, but all client work has something in common – a very clear objective and a defined finish line to cross. The work is done when it meets the criteria agreed in the brief and the client is happy with it. So far, so satisfying.

And then, later on in the day, I’m likely to be sitting down for a second time and writing something that just doesn’t have the same kind of clear cut boundaries. I’ll be switching to the fiction part of the day and unless it’s a commissioned story or I’m writing for a themed event, THERE ARE NO RULES. The only objectives are the ones I made myself and the client is, well, anyone I can persuade to read the results. So far, so woolly!

There’s something very freeing about knowing you can write about absolutely anything you want, but it can also be kind of unnerving. Especially if you get stuck thinking that every piece of writing should have a specific end point and a worth measured by a client or reader’s satisfaction.

Once you start putting on that kind of pressure, you can end up feeling as though writing your own stuff is the very opposite of freeing.

If I'm really stuck, I might actually sketch instead!

If I’m really stuck, I might actually sketch instead!

In fact, it’s almost paralysing, because to be honest, not everything you write should be seen be someone else. Sometimes, you should be writing just to try something out, to get a random idea out your head or even to fail so that you can get it right next time.

Think of that writing you do that might not end up in a novel or as its own, perfectly formed short story as just another page in your artist’s sketchbook. Just like painters, everything you do has merit, even if the result is nothing you’d want to hang on the wall. Let yourself write without a goal and just when you’re doodling and scribbling away at something just for the fun of it, there’s a good chance you’ll hit on an idea you want to take forward after all.

Writer (always) in training

Six-year-old me wanted to be a writer, I wonder what six-year-old me would have thought about the idea if she’d had a look at twenty-eight-year-old me. I still want to ‘be a writer’, but I guess my idea of what that actually means has changed quite a lot. In a world where you can’t turn around for another article decrying the end of print or the decline in reading levels, writing for a living seems like a much more slippery beast than the small version of myself ever anticipated.

Me as a wee 'un

But in a way, that’s exactly what I do – it’s just that the money tends to come from copy and marketing content. Which isn’t such a bad thing, I suppose. Obviously, I’d love to spend all of my time writing fiction but the more I write, the more I seem to see the weak points in my writing and the more I start thinking to myself that maybe I’m not ready.

Not only am I seeing flaws I’d never even have thought of looking for in the past, but I’m starting to wonder whether writing fiction full-time would actually suit my temperament. Maybe I need to spend a certain quota of the week writing about travel insurance or cosmetic surgery as a way to empty my mind and get myself warmed up. The deadlines that aren’t self-imposed certainly help too.

Churning out sentence after sentence about things I’m not that interested in is certainly good practice, not to mention an incentive to spend more time writing about things I am interested in out of work.

I suppose what I really thinking think of myself as is a writer in training – which is a much more forgiving view as well as one that lets me make plenty of mistakes along the way. Looking at everything as a learning experience is a pain in the ass, especially when you’re as impatient as I really am, but it’s my best bet at improving.

If you write, how do you think of yourself? Do you call yourself a writer and what type of things do you think have been your biggest learning experiences?

Lynsey the work-ogre wants a break

Recently I’ve felt an awful lot like some kind of work-ogre who scares away all of my time. Hours, minutes and seconds flee at my advance, meaning I never seem to have anything to spare for the projects I actually enjoy.

When I say work is taking up too much of my time, I’m not kidding – I keep having to fly to London for meetings and faffing about trying to set up new processes for my department – and I really don’t want to.

So I should do less work right – maybe scale back at the day job? Yeah, well there’s the rub, I really, really want to, but I’ve never been one of those writers who can shrug off the expectations of the non-writing world. All that means is that I’ve found myself on a career path and I’m now scared to step off it. I’m fighting for a promotion and a pay rise, and it looks possible – but sometimes I think that I’m actually fighting for something that’s detrimental to the life I want to live. (That’s one where I write lots and lots :))

My long term plan is – and has for ages been – to go part time at work and spend the remaining days writing. The thing is, I’m waiting for two things; enough seniority at work to make it feasible, and some kind of sign from the writing world that it wouldn’t be a waste of time. The curse of being too sensible… I could be waiting forever at this rate.

I know and read about a lot of writers who take the plunge and write full time, or hold down undemanding jobs to maximise their writing time – and I’m jealous, even though I’m pathologically scared of putting all my eggs in one basket. If you’ve quit your day job, how has it impacted your writing life? I’d love to know.

Oh well, nothing’s going to change this week – just stay out of my time-wrecking path if you want to get anything done!

Writing repetitively and repetitive writing

The more time I devote to writing, the more I feel as though my life is in danger of becoming overly repetitive. I suppose I don’t really want ALL of my excitement and drama playing out on the pages in front of me, inspiration would eventually run dry that way I’m sure, but it’s pretty hard to get the balance right.

At the moment, days go: get up, write or edit, go to work for four hours and write and get annoyed by people, have an hour break for lunch to write or edit, back to work for another 3.5 hours with generally more annoyance than writing, home for tea, try to write and read then fall asleep. This is repeated for most week days with very occasional fun nights thrown in. There ain’t much in the way of variation there, especially when you’ve been working on the same novel for over a year…

When I was younger, the idea of days full of the same thing was terrifying, I honestly couldn’t think of anything worse, but the older I get the more attracted I become to routine (crazy old cat lady without the cats here I come). But too much of a routine could be a bad, bad thing.

Spending a lot of time seeing people and having fun doesn’t leave enough space for getting the words on the page, so it gets sacrificed – but if it keeps going that way there will be no friends left and every day will be just the same as the day before, and if that happens, what are the chances that every page will be just the same as the page before too?

If I’m not paying attention at work, I can churn out clichés at a rate of knots – that’s what happens when you do the same damn thing all the time – I have to make sure that same thing doesn’t happen to my fiction, even if it means taking a little bit of time away from writing it occasionally. Does anyone have a good way of shaking up their routine without compromising it completely?

In it for the money?

When I was a kid my mum used to joke about how mercenary I was (normally when I’d demand payment for doing the ironing to be fair) so how has it got to the stage where I think I can honestly say I’m not in it for the money?

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to be able to write (creatively) for a living, but yesterday I realised how little the payment involved bothers me in comparison to publication. Earlier in the week I was offered some well paid copy work through a friend and yesterday I found out that one of the stories I had on the shortlist for an anthology didn’t make it in.

The copy work? I’ll take. Would I swap the cash if it meant the rejected story made it in the book? In a second. (don’t tell my clients)

Having the opportunity to write fiction full time – or even near to full time – is the dream, but I think I just proved to myself that I’m going to end up ploughing away at writing and trying to get things placed even when it takes time and money away from other areas of my life. When did I let the mercenary streak slide huh? I guess I’m still hoping it’ll pay off n the end though, just in the creative sense rather than the financial one.