November. Wow. It feels like I’m in the last stretch now. I leave for home mid-December and one thing strikes me more than any other…I need to get writing next year.
As I’ve said many times, I’ve had a great experience and I don’t regret it at all but I have learnt one big important lesson and that’s what I want to talk about today. How incredibly vital it is to have (for me) a dedicated time and location to write every day.
I could pick on any number of things that have kept me from keeping to a strict schedule while I have been here in Spain but I'm going to focus on the most obvious one, the one that I didn't fully appreciate the allure of and naively thought wouldn't drag me into its clutches; the sun. I’ve loved being in the sun! I was unsure as to whether or not my skin was capable of tanning, I’ve never gone much past…oh, let’s say, burnt-maroon before but that was quickly answered: No. I’ve been out in the sun for so long (take extreme care everyone – use sunscreen!) that I have happily accepted that I will remain non-bronzed. However, what has amazed me is how much I have enjoyed relaxing in the sun. Normally I get very agitated sitting or laying still for long periods of time. I become restless and start listing in my mind all the things that I could or should be doing. Back in London, that’s not too much of a problem because a prolonged hot spell isn’t that common and even on hot days you can get clouds that break up the direct sunlight giving you plenty of opportunity to get up and move on. Here in south east Spain, it’s a different thing altogether, in fact it’s the opposite. You hardly ever get clouds or rainy days so if you wanted to you could roll out your beach towel at 9am and not have much of a reason to leave until sunset. So that has been a test…how to summon the willpower to NOT go out in the sun and stay inside and write or do any other number of required tasks. I never thought that would be a problem for me, I can’t explain how much I underestimated the pull of sitting in the sun. It is an absolute pleasure to soak up the rays, you feel a strength from it, a natural sense of good health…now of course that isn’t scientifically true (just type in “dangers of sunbathing” into Google) and I have on occasion had some trouble with rashes and spots, especially during the August and September months which were far too hot for me, I’ve blogged about that before so won’t repeat, but I certainly know my limits when it comes to living without air conditioning. And yet…I have found myself being drawn to laying out in my terrace as if it were an essential part of my daily routine. It has in fact become one, I feel bad if I don’t get a couple of hours of sunbathing with the headphones on listening to my favourite 90s radio stations (did I just admit that?) and reading a few pages of whatever book I’m on. And that is the problem I never saw coming...and I hate to sound so pathetic, unmotivated and easily swayed on such a non-problem…it has been the main reason I have not written anywhere near as much as I should have.
Here’s the bind. The sun has replaced all the temptations I had problems with back in London. There I had lots of different places I could write but they were within a few minutes walk of a very busy town and if I went ‘up town’ which is still for some reason the way I refer to going to central London then the temptations increase to a silly level. Think of all the distractions a city centre offers, and no matter how educational and inspirational they may be, they remain distractions: bars, restaurants, shops, theatres, museums, parks, cafes, etc. You can flit from place to place and without any trouble at all, take up an entire day. Where I am now is a small town that doesn’t offer those distractions. If I want any of that then I need to get a bus to a larger city approx. an hour away (I’m not a driver). However, wrap all of those into one bundle and put it on one side of a set of scales and on the opposite side put the sun and the sea and they will weigh the same. The countryside is so beautiful here it never gets boring or tiresome to walk by the same stretches of sea, mountains and beaches. So you have in effect swapped one set of distractions for another just as difficult to overcome.
Now I should say that (I wonder if this is actually the millionth time) I am an amateur writer and I am in no way speaking for the professional masses. Yet we all know that distractions are a huge problem for all writers. So I wanted to tell you in this blog what I feel I need in order to be productive.
Before that, there has been one huge benefit to spending so much time outside...time to think. Without sounding too abstract and all poetic about it, it is essential for productivity - having time to think. I've really managed to clear my mind a lot out here, both on personal issues but also in terms of writing: working out ideas for stories or characters, generating ideas for the social media projects I want to work on, ideas for the business in general. So although the most important task is getting the words down, just letting your mind settle and feel open and free helps enormously and I am so grateful that I've had that chance.
There is an easy comparison to make first of all in relation to all other jobs I have had when it concerns 'productive working time'. They have all, in the main, been office jobs and although had varied duties and responsibilities the common factor was that you turned up in the morning and left in the evening. So, if we just take a basic average 9-6 job that means ever since I left school and started working I have been perfectly used to getting up early, travelling to a fixed location, staying in a room for eight or so hours (I know how many people do the sandwich at the desk for lunch thing but I’ll be honest and say even when it was frowned upon I always used to go out for a walk at lunch) and then travelling home. Now, why can’t I do that for my writing? Yes, as we all know you sometimes get called into meetings, you have to go on training courses, you may have to travel to other sites occasionally, you take the odd five minutes out here and there for a coffee or if you are a smoker to pop outside for a crafty-ciggie (not sure why I wanted to describe it that way) but when you boil it down, you don't have a huge amount of distractions. You are at your desk and you get on with your work. You can't just raise your arms up, have a stretch and think, 'Well, I might just take a look around the shops for an hour,' or, 'I think I'll take the dog for a walk,', etc. You are there and you get your work done. (Although I dare say we are all guilty of spending too much time visiting Facebook unless you are at a company that blocks social media sites, ha!)
I may have mentioned this before but I have read about several high profile successful writers who force themselves to treat their writing as a traditional office job. They didn’t want to build an extension to their house for their office, or do the shed in the garden thing because they honestly felt that they wouldn’t have the discipline not to constantly break off and wander back to their house, or take the dog for a walk as I mentioned above, or whatever it may be. So they purposefully rented office space in the centre of their city so that they could treat their writing as a full time job in the 9-6 sense - get up for work, get dressed for work, get the train to work…
Now I’m not in a position to hire office space in central London but I really like the idea of that and I think that admitting you don’t have discipline for a certain way of working and creating an environment that you would be able to work in is just a different form of discipline and motivation. You know what is best for you so you take active steps to achieve that set up.
So I have to make an admission to myself and admit the fact that I may not be able to write if I remain in the set up I currently have. It’s just a thought and not something I can put to the test because this was an unusual year but I really don’t think I could stay inside and write when I see a blazing hot sun outside shining down through a cloudless clear blue sky. What a weak thing to admit but there it is.
The thing is, at home, you can trick yourself into thinking you have done a decent amount of work for the day when really, compared to what you could do, it's nothing. If you get a good hour or two under your belt in the morning you suddenly give yourself permission to muck around for a while. That wouldn't happen in an office! 'Er, excuse me boss. I've just spent an hour working on that presentation and I think I've done a cracking job. Do you mind if I go and lay down on the roof and catch some rays now please? I'll do another hour this afternoon, promise?' You can imagine the response. I once sent my boss an email requesting to take some annual leave and one of the team leaders came to my desk and took a photo of me, then a few minutes later I got an email back from my boss saying he had just seen the photo and was surprised to see that I wasn't wearing a clown's suit. That's the sort of attitude that can be painfully demanding but certainly gets results. Now, I'm not saying I want to treat my life as an office job, because, well, I may as well go and get an office job if that's the case, but I do think there are things to take from a disciplined working environment. Next time I write for an hour or two and then stop, I will ask myself, why am I stopping? If I was in an office away from home, I know I would have another couple of hours work in me before I took a break and imagine how much more quickly my book would be finished if I doubled my output.
Before I conclude that point I should add that there is the reasonable expectation that I could timetable my day and only allow myself a certain amount of time outside. This is not exactly a crisis I know, I hope you don't think I'm crying here. (See my postscript remark) There is no reason why that can’t work. Except for me it hasn’t. I have tried. I have tried setting up a routine and having fixed times of the day when I sunbathe, food shop, write, read, email, etc. I have failed miserably. The reason isn’t entirely clear to me but I think when I have the option to do any of those at any time of the day I feel the need for a timetable is redundant and I get annoyed at myself for not taking advantage of my time here while I have it (the weird contradictory problem of having too much freedom) and therefore end up deliberating about what to do so much, I end up doing nothing! When you only have yourself to answer to, adhering to a self imposed schedule takes a lot of discipline. The thing is, you love it, I love it. It's not like I'm desperate to get away from writing, I want to write! It's just that keeping up with prolonged periods of writing and ignoring all distractions is tough, even when you love it!
So this is both a specific point in that I am trying to explain why my year away hasn't been as productive as I would have liked (although I have no regrets) and a more general point about what I need to think about next year when I am back home. This year was all about a different experience and moving on with a new direction in my life. Now that I have just six weeks left I realise the importance of enjoying my time in this environment and I don’t feel too guilty for being outside lazing about. If I were to have moved here permanently I hope my brain would have switched around a bit and made it possible for me to be adhere more rigorously to a timetable. It would have changed my perception and for sure, my expectations. If I had come somewhere with the specific intention of writing and writing alone, such as the many fantastic writing camps that people attend, then I am positive I would have treated my time differently.
Okay. So excuses and explanations aside, I know I am capable of working so much harder and producing so many more words. I know it. I have been slow and I have allowed myself to be easily distracted. I admit it and put my hands up without resistance. So here is what I need to do for January.
First of all the weather will be on my side. I won’t want to go out! Ha! It will be cold. It may be very, very cold considering my body will be adapting to a year in Spain. So I doubt very much I will wake up and look outside and say to myself, grab the factor 50 Rob and get out there! That won’t happen. Not in the same sense of just idling about. On the flip side of that I am missing walking around London more than I can explain and I can't wait to get out and about in the streets, parks and other favourite spots that I'll be sharing with you next year. That is essential for my well being and also because I have a lot of research to do for my book (London locations) so it will be a very different type of 'going out' if that makes sense.
I need to be stricter about my writing hours. I need to set myself three sessions and I will copy other people when I say I will try to enforce them into fixed slots and not just the ‘as long as I do them’ scenario. I will try hard to do a two hour morning, afternoon and evening session. I am lucky in that I have options for locations. I have great coffee shops, pubs, libraries, and other locations to utilize and there is no excuse for not finding a comfortable, distraction-LESS place to write. I can switch them around, I can go to different places on a weekly basis for instance, no reason why not. So although I won't be renting an office space like I described above, I will be doing most of my writing away from home, but please, I don't want to sound like a totally weak minded bright lights chasing inattentive slacker! I am capable of writing at home too I promise!
I have taken images from my Pinterest board, “Bookshelves and Reading Places” to splash some wonderful photos through this blog post (http://www.pinterest.com/thinkingplainly). They have all been added by people over the last week. Strictly speaking they are reading places more than writing places but I thought it would be interesting to generate some ideas with whoever is reading this to see what you identify with...could you see yourself writing in these types of settings or is somewhere else more suitable? I have listed the URL for each image as the caption so you can find out more about the image and the person who pinned it. I am going to write a specific blog post on Pinterest soon to explain what I am doing there and some ideas for the future but for the time being just in case anyone reads this that follows and contributes to my boards a big hugely appreciative THANK YOU for taking the time out to post your pictures and share them with everyone, you have done an amazing job making it such a great board and I owe you.
So, now that I have said all this, let’s see how much of my own medicine I take. In January I will report back and let you know how I am finding things back home and whether or not being back and in a routine and commencing properly my writing life will be a success or whether I am without doubt one big bag of hot air and I produce no more work than I have out here.
One thing is for sure, I won't be doing any writing on this Halloween hangover...laying down on the terrace recovering is priority number one. I hope you all had a great party and are laughing over all the photos of the night before...
Take care everyone,
P.S: This is solely about my writing. I will also be spending time developing other projects for my company and I will let you know about those too. I’m excited to get back to working on my social media accounts such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and so on. Hope you will be part of those too next year.
P.P.S: Again! This is a blog about my experiences on writing. I realise on the scale of things moaning about having the opportunity to sit on my backside all day in the sun isn’t a problem that the UN needs to get involved with. However, please remember that everyone has their personal lives and nothing is ever what it seems on the surface. I felt the ridiculousness of this subject matter with every word I typed however it is a real and serious subject when it comes to writing so please take this blog (and all of my posts) in context, a blog on the issues faced by people trying to write.
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