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Approaching the blank page – part 2

August 2, 2009

Last week was all about stepping away from the blank page to get an idea of what to write about. Now we can step back to the page and begin the task of how to start.

And it’s not by writing.

Writing is a physical activity. You may be sedentary, but it is a biomechanical process, and as such you have to make sure you are doing it right. Eye strain, back ache and carpal tunnel syndrome are among some of the potential injuries you can give yourself when writing.

So take a look at where you plan to do your writing, and make sure it is comfortable. Not too comfortable, you want to actually write, not curl up and fall asleep. If you are writing at a desk or a table, you want it to be at an appropriate height for how you write. For example, if you are typing you want to keep your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle, with your forearms parallel to the ground. But if handwriting it should be slightly higher than that to allow for the higher angle of your elbow. Having a height adjustable chair can help with this.

Speaking of chairs, when sitting at a chair your feet should touch the ground and your thighs be parallel with the ground. Your back should be straight and supported. As someone who suffers from back problems I can tell you that nothing will put you off writing more than persistent pain. You’re going to be writing for long periods at a time, so you need to be comfortable enough to do that.

Make sure you have adequate light levels too. I do most of my writing beside a window so that I have the benefit of daylight. I also have an adjustable swing lamp on my desk for writing at night.

Do you have all the materials close at hand you need to write with? Pen, spare ink, spare pens, pencils (plural), pencil sharpener, eraser, typewriter ribbon, plenty of paper, your computer – however you write, have the essentials at hand so you aren’t having to disrupt your flow of writing.

Finally, unplug from the internet. If you write longhand or use a typewriter, then this isn’t going to be so much of a problem for you. However, if like me you write on a computer, it is a huge pitfall. The internet is great for research, but a fiend for eating up your time. So shut down your web browser. Close the e-mail program. Turn off the instant messaging software. If you have a desktop alert for new e-mails, turn it off too. If you use wi-fi, try turning off the router. Wired internet connection? Unplug it from the computer. Cut yourself off from it while you are writing to remove the temptation to “just check your e-mail”. You can always reward yourself with some web time for completing an hour or so of writing.

These are what I consider the non-negotiable preparation for writing, the things you really have to do to get your writing done.

There are other things of course, that are down to personal preference. Some people like to write in absolute silence, others need music in the background. I prefer to have some music playing, but it can’t be anything that will distract me, so I prefer to have music with no lyrics. And it can’t be the radio for me, as I’ll concentrate too much on people talking, but for others having talk radio playing is a benefit.

Same goes for television. I know writers who can have the television playing in the background, can keep up with their writing while watching a film or a TV show. I’m guilty of doing this sometimes, but it tends to be non-fiction. I just can’t write fiction with the TV on.

And then there’s the subject of refreshments. I heartily endorse having a drink with you whilst you write. What you drink is down to you. I usually have a large mug of coffee, or some water or fruit juice, but I’ve been known to write with a bottle of beer or a margarita. Again, down to you, with a caveat that you don’t use “getting another drink” as an excuse to keep wandering off and not writing. And if do have an alcoholic beverage with you when writing, please drink responsibly. Not everyone can be Hemmingway.

Paul doesn’t want to think how many of his own rules he violated in writing this week’s article. Think of it as a case of do as he says, not as he does…
  1. August 6, 2009 6:26 pm

    Really? I think that’s probably going to be the best $15 I’ll ever spend!

    At the moment I have a bit of software called SelfControl that blocks certain websites that you list, or you can have it block everything bar the listed websites, but I’ve found that it can be inexact, and is really difficult to undo when the time expires. An offline Write or Die would be awesome.

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