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Hercule Poirot Never Shoveled Snow

March 14, 2011

The Great Agatha Christie

I spent my morning shoveling wet heavy snow and thinking of Agatha Christie. I remembered reading she was born in Torquay. Then I wondered what I expected to find looking out a hotel window in Torquay; herds of buffalo grazing majestically across the plain, perhaps? Then I thought I shouldn’t spend my shoveling time quoting Faulty Towers, I should heed Mrs. Christie’s advice and plan my article for Write Anything.

How exactly did Agatha Christie lead me to think about writing while shoveling snow? A long time ago she said this:

“The best time to plan a novel is while you’re doing the dishes.”

I know, I know, I sound like a hack–suggesting something so blatantly obvious but let me explain where I’m coming from. You ever see a horror movie where the lead character looks in a mirror and their reflection suddenly moves of its own accord? That’s kind of how I feel every time I find myself with some spare time. More often than not, I find my reflection playing a stupid game on the world’s most popular social network when what the real me wants is to write, or edit what I wrote the day before.

I’ve only very recently come to understand that I’ve purposefully, albeit unwittingly, organized my life in such a way that I don’t need to make decisions on what to do with my time. I have a full time day job. I’ve recently bought a house in dire need of restoration and I’m salvaging another house by demolishing it bit by bit. I also have a family and, as selfish as it may seem, I enjoy sleep on a nightly basis.

See, I’ve filled my days with obligations which need to be met. This way I’m not burdened by choices on how to occupy my time or any accompanying guilt. I’ve made it okay to take a small computer break after spending hours working. I can justify it as “mental health” time. I mean a guy’s got to unwind sometime right? Haven’t I earned a few minutes to play a video game?

It’s cliché, but the first step in changing is admitting you need to change. I can honestly say I didn’t realize what I was doing when I stacked my life with so many projects. Now I know and since my ultimate goal is to write I need to make it okay to make a choice to write. One of the comments in my introductory post reads:

“Strangely enough, it’s when I have the most time that I find it hardest to motivate myself…”

Believe me brother, I know what you mean. What’s needed is momentum and that’s where Mrs. Christie’s brilliant observation comes in to play.

I drive a lot for my job. I usually listen to satellite radio or plug in my iPod and listen to audio books. It’s a great way to pass the time. But that’s no longer what I want to be doing. Lately I’ve been shutting off the radio for an hour or so and using the voice recording feature of my iPod to plan out short stories and work on plotting my novel. What I’ve discovered is amazing. Thinking and talking about my stories gets me excited about them which makes me want to write as soon as I have time.

Basically what I’m doing is building momentum. I’m getting my mind focused on my story telling. I’m writing without putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be. I’ve made a choice to begin. The choice to write comes easier once I have momentum on my side. I wasn’t expecting to shovel snow this morning but I did and in so doing planned out this article and figured out how two of my characters are going to meet.

So there’s tip number one, inspired by one of the best crime authors ever. Don’t let your brain cells die when forced to perform menial tasks. Build writing momentum instead, then get those dish-pan hands busy writing.

  1. March 14, 2011 2:15 am

    How about giving up sleep for lent? Maybe, you can keep your video time that way. Seriously though, what you say provides food for thought. I also drive a fair bit and listen to audio books… Maybe this morning I can discover what my new character regrets ever having learnt… like to drive. That won’t do, however, as it meant to be fiction not biography.

  2. March 14, 2011 4:48 am

    I’m going to have to work on this. The daily activities of life distract me from writing, makes it hard to plot and plan.

  3. March 14, 2011 5:54 am

    It is daily life which keeps my writing life enriched and moving forward. As I said on facebook – creativity intended us writers (and our families) to be well fed, clothed and have a roof over our head a few notches up from a crack den.

    When I take time out in the afternoon to cook dinner, wash dishes, do the laundry etc plots unravel, characters chatter and generally all is well in the world. Add to that some driving, showering and the odd walk and I’m set.

    I have to remind myself constantly of this though – that these menial tasks, I so often resent, are actually good not just for the daily running of our household, but my writing. I’m glad to think the grand dame herself thought so too! As always, a highly practical woman 🙂

  4. March 14, 2011 6:55 am

    I know that filling your life thing. I think I do it because I’m so scared of what I have to do writing-wise I don’t know where to start. I mean – if I have free time, what do I do? Finish one novel? Edit another? Work on my writing course? Too much in too little time. So what do I do? Play games on Facebook.

    I’m glad you’ve found a way of building momentum, I desperately need to do that. If I could decide which project to work on…

  5. March 14, 2011 9:14 am

    My life is full to overflowing and my problem as a writer is that I find it really hard to make sitting down to write a priority over the kids’ schedules, the day job, the laundry, the dishes, the garden, etc., etc., etc. It actually got worse when I got laid off in 2009; I hadn’t realized it but I had gotten myself into a pattern of getting to work really early and writing for a couple of hours before clocking in. Once I lost the job, those hours got filled in with the (unsuccessful) job search and, initially, wallowing in self-pity. Now those hours are filled with starting a business (thanks to the unsuccessful job search).

    What really stinks for me is that writing should be enjoyable and it should be something I am wanting and excited to do; but right now it’s just another chore on the ever-growing to-do list. I need to find a way to re-balance this equation. The voice recorder suggestion is good, but not practical for me at this point. I’m going to try to figure out a way to make that viable, though.

    Good luck with your efforts!

  6. March 14, 2011 11:16 am

    I got hooped at today at the traffic lights. I hadn’t noticed they’d turned green. The driver behind was quite irate. It’s all your fault.

  7. March 14, 2011 2:19 pm

    Interesting post. It’s very possible to cultivate good habits where you can think creatively about a writing problem/opportunity when doing something menial like the dishes. Otherwise boring physical tasks, and for me these include housework, the gym and driving definitely offer a chance to get a part of the writing process done.

  8. March 14, 2011 2:38 pm

    All my favorite blogs are filled with AMAZING posts today. I absolutely love this! You’ve described exactly the change I need to make — I need to stop letting my brain fry and concentrate on what I love, because I actually do love it under all the grumbling and laziness. Thanks for writing (and thank goodness for shoveling snow! I never thought I’d say THAT, being from Wisconsin).

  9. March 14, 2011 8:16 pm

    You are so right when you say momentum is everything in this game. I wonder how much the inertia of sitting at a desk causes block? It doesn’t necessarily have to follow that being away from the keyboard means not writing. I like the idea of stopping listening to audiobooks to dictate my own stories … alas though being a cyclist I don’t suppose that’s going to be feasible or safe.

  10. March 15, 2011 6:23 pm

    I really appreciated your insight that we sometimes “purposefully, albeit unwittingly” plan our lives in order to avoid the hard choices we would otherwise have to make in order to pursue our dreams/goals/etc.

    On the other hand, I think the mundanity of life is really what inspires writing. If you can’t appreciate mundanity, then I feel like you can’t appreciate all the exciting non-mundanity that good writing should have. And, just maybe, writing is about finding what’s interesting and appealing in the mundane. After all, there aren’t that many new themes in writing and they are all threatening to become mundane.

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