Shaun Levin

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Time’

Finish Stuff

In Writing on September 8, 2020 at 10:36 am

Work on what you have and work on finishing it. Don’t start something new, okay? Just what you have. Finish it. No new projects, no new stories, no new material. Finish. Short, long, whatever, get things done and out the way. Enough accumulation. Too much accumulation. Enough. Work on it, struggle with it, get it done and out the way. Done. Move on. Next. No new things. All those half-finished, just-started, what-a-great-ideas. Get stuff done. Even this reminder, I mean, you could be working on that piece or that piece or that piece or that piece. It’s not like there isn’t work to do. Ignore the distractions. Ignore what’s pulling you away, buttonholing you. Don’t let it. Say no to. Say no to new stories. No to new projects. Go for what you have and get it done and dusted. Out of the way. Sorted. There is not enough sorting going on on your desktop. Sort it out, mate. Get it done. Dusted. Dust off what hasn’t been dusted off for far too long because you’ve been starting new things, always excited by beginnings, embarkings, the runway and the take off. Flight is fun. The thrill of beginning. Commitment issues. Commit to a story and get it done. Commit to a book and get it done. You’re very blaming. This voice, I don’t like it. Maybe there’s another way of going about it. Maybe there are prizes to be given, gifts to be received. Maybe you need that hotel room to get things done, or that time, buy some time to get things done. Maybe you need that walk. Maybe you need that takeaway. Get that delivery. You deserve it. Ugh. Very complicated.

What is writing if not finishing. Writing means finishing. Finish it before it finishes you. That’s what the coach says when we get to the finishing round. It’s called the finishing round because it’s meant to finish you.

But I don’t want to be finished, coach.

Things get easier when you realise there is no pleasure in finishing things. You’re not in it for the finishing. The joy is in the getting there. What they call: the journey. Ugh. The joy is in the writing and the struggling. Not the finishing. To finish is to say goodbye. You finish it and before you know it you’re the carer of the story that has been written (by whom?). To finish is to say okay you’re done you’re not mine but you’re mine and I’ll look after you and help you make your way into the world. I have your back. We’ll find you home. To not finish is to hold onto. To not finish is to say nunca te dejaré. To not finish is to say, mm, yes, I like this co-dependency thing we have going. But really, to be honest, things are always getting finished. A little thing here a little thing there, but when there’s so much unfinished stuff there is so much clinging to you, and boy, do stories cling. Finish me, finish me. Pick me.

So instead of finish something, I wrote this. Which I haven’t yet finished.


Some Writers

In Writing, Writing Exercises on September 7, 2020 at 12:25 pm

Some writers write at home. Some writers write in hotel rooms. Maya Angelou had a regular hotel room in which she wrote. Hotel rooms are good places to write. Some writers write in cafés. At some point you realise what type of writer you are, what your writing routine looks like, when and where you write best. Some writers are stricter than others. Do the most important thing first, is what some writers say. Do the writing first. Some writers start the day with admin. Some writers start the day with a run, or a walk around the block, or push ups. Some writers do push ups in their pauses. Some writers procrastinate. I’m not sure that’s a legitimate way of being a writer, but if things eventually get done then maybe it is. Some writers work on one thing. Some writers always have more than one thing on the go. Some writers feel bad about procrastinating. Some writers beat themselves up. Some writers give themselves license to do whatever they want as long as they get things done. Some writers like sunshine and some like the early hours of the morning. The wee hours. The owl hours. Some writers are night owls. Some writers wake up at 3. For some it’s a pm 3 for others it’s when others are going to bed. Some writers run a lot, like 10k a day. Some writers need a view and others need a wall. Some need silence. I know a writer who needs a lot of silence. I know a writer who gave up, said they were done, that they were tired, that life was too short. Some writers just keep going because what else is there to do. Some writers like to talk about their writing. Others wouldn’t dare. What you working on? Oh, you know. Some writers will tell you everything. Some writers will tell you nothing. Some writers walk, and others stare at the ceiling. Often these are one and the same writer. Some writers are competitive, always keeping an eye on what others are doing. Other writers, to be honest, don’t really care about things like that. They’re just happy to be writing. That’s what they tell themselves. I know writers like that. I know them intimately. Others used to be competitive or became more competitive with age. Writing is not a competition. Some writers like all-consuming projects. Some writers write in short burst, little stories that resonate. Some writers plan. Some writers love the company of other writers, others like the company of other artists, all sorts of artists as long as they’re not writers. Some artists don’t get writers. Some artists look down on writers, think that what they (we) do is easy. Some writers know that writing is the hardest art, that there is no art form more difficult than writing, that writing is the only visual art where you have to rely on words, on one colour on an off-white background. Some writers don’t know that writing is a visual art. Some writers are frustrated visual artists or dancers or something that is not writing but when they write they embody the painter or the ballet dancer or the acrobat that they dream of being. Some writers write as a second choice. Some writers don’t know what they’d do without writing. Some writers think that writing is a curse, their cross to bear, and they love it and they hate it and it causes them so much pain and so much joy that they’re not quite sure sometimes how they feel about it. Some writers sleep well at night and some have insomnia. I know many writers who have insomnia. Some writers are anxious people. All writers are anxious people. It is not possible to be a chilled-out writer. Some writers think that writing is a way to alleviate anxiety. Some writers rely on writing to make a noise after many years of feeling silenced, a whole childhood of feeling silenced, or being silenced, because some people should be seen and not heard or not seen at all, and some writers have gone through things that if it wasn’t for writing might have drowned in that thing or the consequences of that thing. For some writers writing is fun. I love writing. It makes me so happy when I write. Is a complicated statement. Because it’s true. Some writers wish they could be writing all the time, that wouldn’t life be great if all we did was write, which goes back to that hotel room where all you have to do is write and sleep and lie in the bath and can you bring me a burger and I’ll have the continental breakfast today and yes I’m ready for my mid-morning coffee and can I have a slice of that carrot cake you had last week. Okay, no problem, the chocolate cake is good, too. Some writers are not fussy. Some writers are fussy. Some writers have a talisman, a ritual, a candle to light, background music to play, a desk, a pen, a type of paper. Some writers don’t write on paper. Some writers type. Some writers work straight onto the computer. Some writers would not be able to write without a notebook. I know a writer who does everything first in the notebook. Some writers work. Some writers plan. Some writers go into it not knowing where they’ll land up. Some writers know where they’ll land up but they love it anyway. Some writers love the process. Some writers are in it for the ride. Some writers don’t like the end and arriving at their destination because really what it means is that a whole new journey will begin and they must now get to the end of this one and stop.

Exercise: Write until you find a good anchor phrase, something that can be repeated at the beginning of each sentence, then keep using it, over and over, until you run out of steam. (See also: “On the Importance of Having Unread Books on Your Bookshelf.”)


In Writing on September 5, 2020 at 8:43 am

For instance, you might be a writer with much time on your hands, able to dedicate a significant chunk of your mornings, afternoons and evenings to writing, but if an idea comes to you at 11am or 3pm and you don’t have a notebook with you, the idea is likely to evaporate. Having a notebook available at all times is an invitation to use it, a confirmation that writing is integral to life. Sometimes it’s nice to stop at random moments and record what’s going on. To sketch.

Last week I went out for lunch and forgot to take my notebook with me. I hadn’t been out to eat since March. The closest I’ve come to a café in the last five months is the occasional delivery from my favourite pastry shop. This pandemic has reduced the number of opportunities available to a writer to stop and stare. Never mind stare, stopping is a dangerous activity. To linger on a park bench is to invite who knows what into one’s respiratory system. Not that some of us (me) don’t run through ambling crowds and workout in local parks without any barrier between our insides and the outer world.

Anyway. So I went out for lunch. It was delicious, but without my notebook, I had to rely on the paper place-mat, a large sheet of white paper with the café’s logo and a list of select items from the menu (if only I could find that paper place-mat now, I’d tell you what was there. There was definitely arroz negro, which is what I had for my first course, and then some beef stew with chips for my main, and a chocolate tart for dessert. All delicious and because delicious writing was facilitated and I wrote about the story I’m working on, a story about running, runs in different parts of the world and possible ways I could structure the piece. It was like being a bit messy, writing there on the mesa, on a place-mate, on the table, eating and breaking off bits of bread – go easy on the bread – and sipping from the bottle of water included in the menú del día, all for only €11 so that everything conspired to feel like a gift, an invitation to create, to ease the appearance of words on a page, so it didn’t really matter that I didn’t have a notebook, though I did have a pen, and there was the paper place-mat waiting to be written on and I accepted the invitation, ate my food with gusto, felt the openness of the world and the expansiveness of it, how accommodating you can be sometimes, world, how well you make what we need available, even and especially when we don’t have our regular tools with us to make writing happen, you’re there to provide us with what we need. Our father who, etc.)

So I was saying.

A Single Written Sentence

In Writing, Writing Exercises, Writing Workshops on September 1, 2020 at 3:54 pm

It may come as a shock how little time you need to write a book. A story is loyal to those who turn up to write it, and that loyalty grows with the regularity with which one turns up.

(Even though I set the timer and I told myself I’d write for 20 minutes, along came a distraction, and to be honest I can’t remember what the distraction was, maybe it was the delivery guy with the books, but that was 8 hours ago and so much has happened since then, so many distractions, so many nice things, the regular day to day things that fill our hours, like spending time – online, on Whereby – with a friend and doing what we call office time or water-cooler time, in other words, we work in our separate living rooms/studios/bedrooms and there’s accountability. Things get done. Not those initial 20 minutes, though, the ones I started 8 hours ago, so here I am at the other end of the day, starting over.)

It may come as a surprise how little time is needed to write a book. An hour a day is a generous amount, and done daily, seven days a week, as Walter Mosley suggests – no days off – you’ll have a book by the end of the year.

Try it. Set the timer and write for 5 minutes. Whatever comes to mind, even if it’s just to repeat what can I write what can I write I need something to say I want something to say and something will come I promise you that.

In 5 minutes (this is a recent discovery) I usually write approximately 150 words, even with slight pauses here and there, which would mean that in 20 minutes I could do 600 words, which means that in 1 hour I can write almost 2,000 words. 2,000 words over 30 days = 60,000 words, which is a first draft of considerable dimensions. Write for 5 minutes just to see what happens, to get a sense of what you can do in that time. I don’t believe in the importance of word counting, but I do think it’s helpful to know what you can do in a given amount of time. Why? To dispel the myth of the inordinate amount of time needed to write a book. More than the word count, the turning up, the making time is what matters.

Whenever I make time, I have something to show for it, even if it’s just a sentence. A single written sentence is a lot more than an unwritten novel. I’m not sure what that statement actually means, whether it’s of any use to myself or others, but I sense there’s a truth in it.

I want to say something about time spent in good company. Writing with others is my favourite way to write. Writing is lonely, having to be both the writer and the audience is a challenge. Often the project itself is all the company you need, and when that happens it’s a kind of miracle. Writing in a café or art gallery is often all the company I need. But writing with a friend on a park bench or at the kitchen table is my favourite way to write.

Tomorrow’s plan: Writing with friends.

The Writer Must Love

In Writing on August 31, 2020 at 8:56 am

The writer must love writing. To really and truly love the act of it, the putting of pen to paper, the making of words, typing or hand-writing. The writer must love books, maybe above all the writer must love books, these things that hold the words the writer creates, the stories, anywhere between the length of a short paragraph or 600 pages. The writer must love their own company as they write, the writer must love words, words and books and their own company as they write. The writer who loves writing forgets themselves for those minutes or hours of writing and all there is is writing. That is what love looks like. The writer must enjoy what they do and what they’re capable of doing on the page. The writer must delight in the acrobatics of their own mind. The writer must be able to make themselves laugh and cry and pause in wonder at what has suddenly appeared on the page. Those words! The writer must love them and be grateful for them for there are moments when you write, when we write that there is not just us, but some kind of apparition from the wonder of our body and our mind and our gut.

The writer must love their own writing. Maybe not every minute of the day, maybe not most of the minutes of the day, maybe for only a few minutes a day, but the writer must get a glimpse of the wonder of what they do. So wonderful to themselves. Oh, it’s nice to see your name in print and to hold a book with your name on the cover, and it’s nice to be invited to read for an audience and be asked questions about things we have written, but if that is all the writer is writing for, then they will soon be found out. The writer must write without ego. I’m not entirely sure what the ego is (note to self: research ego) but if the writer can write for the exhilaration of writing and/or the comfort of writing and/or the surprise of writing and/or the joy of writing, then the writer is writing for the right reasons.

The writer must love writing more than they love being a writer. To write is to be nothing. To write, like painting, like drawing, dancing, singing is to be nothing and yet to have glimpses of the wonder of that nothingness. To be the thing itself, the words created, the movement of pen on paper, fine, okay, fingers on keyboard, because – full disclosure – these 20 minutes are being written on a desktop in the morning, second coffee done, enjoying the morning, enjoying taking these 20 minutes as I sit at my desk with one leg on the table, my earplugs in, the mind gently blocking out everything else on my screen (quick, go to Enter Full Screen. That’s better.)… The writer must love… The writer must… What I really want to say is:

The writer must love words and what words can do.

The writer must make time to write. There is always time. I know people who get up at 5 in the morning so they can write before their kids wake up. How do they do it? I don’t know. But they do. I admire anyone who can write for those 20 or 30 minutes that their child is asleep mid-morning. I have so much time in which I don’t write. The writer must see the time in which they don’t write as necessary, too, for writing. The writer must love writing enough to turn up every day, even if for 20 minutes. The writer must find time for the thing they love, which is writing. The writer need not be full of love for the world in order to love writing. The writer need not be glamorous or reclusive or shy. The writer must have at some point in their life a glimpse into the transformative and uplifting (find a better word) power of stories, putting words on the page, and the sensation of holding a book with the fingertips of both hands.