01 Jul 2014 / Writing Advice
Arvon has had nearly 50 years to perfect its writing courses. Every detail has been honed over time – from the top notch, handpicked tutors, through to the communal cooking rota, and the inspiration potential of the biscuit selection. However, on Saturday morning you leave this supportive structure behind as you return home to make progress on your writing project – alone.
You need to find your own writing routine and you’re not prepared to wait 50 years to get it right.
Beware the perfect trap – Tim Pears
Award-winning novelist Tim Pears calls the return home from an Arvon course the ‘perfect trap’. He says, “you have this intense week on an Arvon course, you’re buzzing with energy and with achievement. Then you return home, and flop for the rest of the weekend and on Monday morning, you’re thrown back into the very schedule from which you’d escaped to write intensely. It’s a perfect trap.”
His advice is to be aware of this ‘trap’ and accept the unavoidable, in so doing you’ll be able to return to your writing with the energy and commitment forged at Arvon.
Channel that feeling and before you leave make a commitment to write on your return home. It’s your first step in becoming a writer.
Just find five minutes – Stella Duffy
So, you’re back home and fantasising about recreating a mini Arvon in your living room – minus the livestock. All you need is a day or a week off work, and for the kids to be out, and for everything to be just as it was when you were in your writing idyll.
Stop right there, says writer and theatremaker Stella Duffy: “if you wait for the perfect quiet afternoon, the full free day, that week of uninterrupted time – it will never come. There’s no such thing as the perfect time for writing, just this five minutes you have now. And then the next – and then the next.”
Your life will be busy and it will be hard to find time to write. Look for those five minutes of opportunity, the small spaces in your day and soon you’ll be able to build up a writing habit.
“It doesn’t matter what else you have to do, it doesn’t matter how busy you are, if you allow yourself to write, to begin writing, to turn up at the page and start – then the rest will follow. It may not follow easily, and it certainly won’t follow beautifully finished with no need of editing, but it will follow,” she says.
Write each day – Ros Barber
Having a daily writing practice is key for Ros Barber – poet and author of the Marlowe Papers. She compares writing to physical exercise, “once you get out of the habit it can be difficult to start again and months and then years will go by with you moving no closer to your dreams. So write every day, even if you only give yourself thirty minutes: give yourself those minutes.”
Start with your five minutes a day and build up from there. You could set yourself a goal of adding a minute a day – in just over a month you could build a daily writing practice of half an hour a day.
Finding a regular time to write also helps to build a routine. Ros says, “your writing time could be at the beginning of the day, or at the end. Just don’t let the sun go down without writing something.”
Once you’ve found the time and made writing part of your daily routine you need to defend your habit. If you’re not careful, one-off interruptions can eat away at it. Lock the door, growl at intruders, and don’t step away from the page until your time is done. Ros treats writing time as sacrosanct. It’s precious and you need to protect it.
Don’t judge, just write – Nell Leyshon
Whilst it’s hard to write something you wouldn’t be proud to show the world, getting the first draft down as quickly as you can is a vital first step in the writing process for dramatist and novelist Nell Leyshon. She says it’s the same for published authors as it is for beginners.
“Always remember to give yourself permission to write a bad first draft. Until you have completed a ‘draft one’ you have nothing to work and nothing to rewrite,” says Nell.
Altering the margins of your page and changing the font of the heading are not writing. You need to throw the whole thing down before you start tinkering. That’s the same whether you’re writing a poem, a short story, a three-act play or a 100,000 word novel. Just write it.
It might help to recreate the uninterrupted writing time you had at Arvon by turning off the wi-fi, closing down your Gmail and leaving your Twitter account at the door. It’s not research it’s procrastinating!
Top writing tips from top writing tutors
Your Arvon course is a creative kick start. Going away to write is the beginning of your writing journey – the hard work begins when you get home. Make a commitment to write and put it into practice by following the steps outlined by Nell, Ros, Stella and Tim.
• Make a commitment – promise to continue writing
• Start writing – find your first five minutes of writing opportunity
• Write frequently – work towards a daily writing practice
• Protect your writing time – and use it wisely
• Complete the first draft – write the whole thing without judgement
As Ros Barber says “It will help you feel like a writer. And it will help you become one.”
Bec Evans was centre director at Lumb Bank between 2010 and 2013. Since leaving Arvon she has developed Write-Track, a website and app to help writers set writing goals and develop a writing practice. Sign up for Write-Track updates at https://www.write-track.co.uk/me/signup/ or read her blog http://blog.write-track.co.uk/
This article was written with the wisdom of some of Arvon’s excellent tutors. You can find out more about them as writers online or by following them on Twitter.
Ros Barber http://rosbarber.com/ @rosbarber
Stella Duffy http://stelladuffy.wordpress.com/ @stellduffy
Nell Lyshon http://www.foyles.co.uk/nell-leyshon @NellLeyshon
Tim Pears http://www.timpears.com/
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