Muses and Malt Loaf: My 5 Rules for Writing
1.Sit down. The best piece of writing advice I've ever read is this: ‘Writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair’. Sitting down is a non-negotiable clause of the writer's contract. The muse, as Philip Pullman says - paraphrasing Billy Wilder, I think - has to know where to find you. (I’d give anything to be visited by Philip Pullman’s muse. In fact, if ever he’s not in, it’s welcome to a cup of tea at mine, though I warn it now that I don’t keep biscuits in the house. Not nice ones anyway – see point 3 below.)
2.Get up. Writing is seriously bad for your back. You should get up, walk around and stretch every half an hour. But who are we kidding? – if the muse does happen to look in on you, you’ll be so grateful for the few hundred words that follow that frankly a fire alarm isn’t going to get you out of that chair. So I have never followed my own advice and consequently have spent much time and money over the years on Pilates classes, chiropracters, osteopaths, physiotherapists, Davina’s 15 Minute Work Out DVD and something called Flowetic which was fun but gave me blisters. Then about a year ago, I discovered The Gym. It was the osteopath who scared me into it in the end. She told me that if I didn’t start exercising properly, my back would die. Or words to that effect. Reader, if you had told me a year ago that the day would come when I would willingly don sweat-wicking clothing, I would have wondered if you ever really knew me at all. Turns out, you did, better than I knew myself. The solution to a bad back – and indeed poor sleep, stress and all manner of ills – is side-stepping around a public gym as if you’re doing an impression of a constipated crab, two resistance bands locking your knees together in glute-burning stasis, while a muscled young man in shorts observes your progress and intones ‘Lower’. I know it sounds erotic. It’s not. But it’s amazing for your back.
3.Choose your snacks wisely. If you are like me, you will often find writing boring and/or painful and will seek distraction. My favourite form of distraction is food. I would like to be the kind of person who is intensely relaxed about my personal level of insulation. I thought I was I was until I put on sixteen pounds in three months last summer while writing my latest book, most of it measurable in cheese. So the most exciting things in my larder these days are a jar of miso paste, a malt loaf and a pack of chocolate-coated rooftiles (OK, rice cakes). There is only so much damage I can do to the scales when those are the only available snacking options. And judge me as you will, I find that reassuring.
4.Get someone to hide your phone. Jonathan Franzen makes a lot of people angry for some reason. But surely he's right when he says that it’s doubtful if anyone with an internet connection at their workplace is writing good fiction. Let’s face it, if Jane Austen had had access to You Tube, Elinor Dashwood would still be waiting for Edward Ferrars to propose. My solution used to be to leave the house and go to a cafe. Then I spotted the wireless code on the menu one day and I caved instantly. So now I have to switch off the wireless at home and rely on malt loaf to give me the willpower not to turn it back on again.
*Obviously I just had to look that reference up on the internet.
5. Don’t write down your rules for writing. You don’t have time and you’re just trying to distract yourself from the fact that you haven’t written anything else today.