Thursday, 27 February 2014

The trouble with going outside to write

Dear all, I did have a couple of other subjects to write about for yesterday’s and today’s blog posts but after spending last night and today sneezing and coughing in bed with a cold this one came to mind. I added the final bullet point just now, hopefully you will understand if you make it that far.

Back in London I was very used to taking my laptop and working in different places around the parts of London I worked and lived in. I would sit in pubs, cafes, parks and those places called libraries, although if you don’t mind me being grumpy for a moment the ones I went to are too noisy these days…anyway, I would happily make myself comfortable and write. So that’s all well and good. Now I think about it though and compare it to what I am doing here, I can see that there are two ways of going about it and I have tended to do one far more than the other.
            To explain; if you go out with the intention of writing, how often do you go somewhere in the knowledge that you may bump into someone, that you have only got a set period of time, at a certain time you must go somewhere to meet someone or run an errand or pay your council tax or pick something up from the shop before it closes…and those sort of things. How many times have you gone fully intending not to be interrupted…but made it possible that you are? One way of asking this is have you ever gone somewhere you know for absolute sure does not have Internet connection and you have not taken your mobile phone?
            There have been a couple of occasions, and I am really ashamed to say only a couple, where I have done that. I have so much opportunity to do so, to sit in peace and comfort and solitude and get on with writing and yet still find it so hard to do and end up doing one of the above. However I know the results I get from writing outside are great and I really enjoy doing it so I’m not sure why I sabotage myself.
            I want to leave writing at home out of this blog. Yes, staying put with the kettle on and working through the day at your desk/table/office is best, no distractions, no travelling, etc. and so is the best way to get serious amounts of work done but for today I just want to explore how much you can get done somewhere else.
            On the occasions where I have settled somewhere and gone into that trancelike state where all of a sudden five or ten thousand words have appeared and a few hours gone by without you realizing, I have felt very good about myself because I haven’t felt like a hermit. There is a connection to the world around me, not because I am necessarily watching people go by, there is a time for that for sure, and not because I have had conversations with the café owner, it is just the feeling of being surrounded by life going on itself that cheers me up. I don’t get that same feeling if I stay in all day no matter how much work I get done. I feel like I have missed the world and I have lost the day. The difficult adjustment to make is that I know deep down that shouldn’t matter, the work alone should matter but I guess I want the best of both worlds when it’s impossible.
            I think it may be something to do with the mental preparation to write. If you work in an office, the journey there, the putting on of a suit and tie, the daily motions you go through to sit down at whatever desk you have gets you in that state for work (even if you hate it and you don’t feel like it once you sit down you start working, you just get on with it) and when you leave the office at the end of the day, stress and other issues aside if you have a very demanding job, in general you have the feeling that the working day is done and you can forget about things until the morning.
            At the moment I feel a pressure to write all day, I should be writing in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening. The hang-up I still have is that I feel I should also be going outside and exploring. So that little process of mental preparation, the journey to work if you like, I’m having trouble with. It’s odd really, just getting a cup of tea or coffee and sitting down at the table just doesn’t seem enough some days. Just like at the gymnasium you need to warm up, you need to have that set time of stretching and gentle jogging to get you ready for the main workout. I can’t seem to work out the best way to warm up. I have found blogging helps, once I have got some words down the fingers are loose and I am comfortable in the chair and I can get going. However, not always.
            That is why I feel going out alone sometimes does the trick, but when it doesn’t work it can be painful, you get back home having done nothing all day and you question why you spent 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 minutes walking somewhere only to sit down and do nothing and waste another 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 minutes coming back. That is 2 hours you could have spent at the desk…
            What you can gain by going out is fantastic though, just by being in a different environment I feel energized with a sense of purpose. I enjoy the feeling of freedom, the exploring, the sense of having seen something new.
            There are obvious things that can go wrong. It can rain, then you’re screwed. The wind can pick up and you have to battle just to keep control of your papers. The café you go to can unexpectedly close early and you lose your flow. All those things and more have happened and you end up dragging yourself home feeling aggrieved and cheated.
            Then again, there are those things that can mess you up if you stay in. Outdoors I somehow mentally prepare myself for background noise and it doesn’t interrupt my flow but if I am indoors then the slightest out of the norm sound can totally mess me up, the next door neighbour’s music, kids running along the hallway outside, the construction work down the road…once I hear it I may as well put my coat on and go for a stroll.
The challenge for me is to make sure I always produce work. If I go out then don’t waste the day. If I stay in then don’t waste the day. And most of all, don’t feel you have cheated yourself out of doing the opposite thing! That ‘if only I had done this instead’ feeling, it’s horrible and gets you down.

So I try to remind myself of the basics.
  • Don’t take your mobile phone and end up texting and calling friends all day.  Or if you can trust yourself to bring it then be strict and use it only for emergencies.
  • Don’t go somewhere that has free wi-fi and spend all day searching the web.
  • Make sure you have a fully charged laptop because if you take an hour to get somewhere, find a comfortable spot and then a minute into writing you get a five minute warning to automatic shut down time you will be kicking yourself all the way home.
  • Don’t go to an area that you know you don’t like! Sounds so obvious doesn’t it but the amount of times I have gone to a certain place knowing there is a high chance that it will be too busy or too cold or too windy but telling myself that maybe it will be okay today only to get there to find that it is exactly as you feared and you have just tricked yourself yet again.
  • Don’t go somewhere and then go straight back because you feel fidgety. Be disciplined, stay there and get some work done, it is just like going to the office, treat it that way. I should use word counts, some people find them very useful markers, but I always end up thinking too much about my progress and checking the number every two minutes so I have given up on that.
  • Be careful you don’t catch a cold and then lose two days to being ill… 

Sometimes when I find writing tough it is good to go out and refocus, it doesn’t always work but I really enjoy it. I have wasted many days but then again what was the guarantee that had I stayed in I would have done any better.
This isn’t to do with just going out in general and exploring because you feel like a walk or whatever, that’s totally different, that is absolutely essential and I love it, I am only talking about going out with the intention of working. I don’t care where it is, the quiet coffee shop that plays smooth jazz or the High Street bench where a thousand people walk past, if it works then great.

As a very small aside, sometimes you go somewhere and without expecting it you get a burst of inspiration because you come across something that reminds you why you love the constant pain of trying to write.

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