A little room to write

Writing. Reading. Life

Month: April 2016

Fashion don’ts

Sartorially speaking, I have committed some interesting faux pas over the years. There was the time aeons ago when I went to a nightclub in a pair of rather brief shorts and black patent leather stilettos. Now, there are many women who could pull off this look, but being short, pasty and more than a little on the padded side, I’m not one of them. Add to this the fact that I have never mastered the art of walking in heels and, rather than the vision of an alluring vixen I had been aiming for, I looked more like a chubby, plucked chicken.

Then there was the outfit I wore to my Year 12 formal: a yellow, polka dot, drop-waisted dress. This was something most grandmothers would have been proud to have in their wardrobe, but what the hell was it doing on an 18-year-old?

And let’s not forget the Jenny Kee rip-off jumper I wore at uni. I considered myself quite the funkster in that riot of bright colour that did little for my freckles and already rectangular figure.

What the hell?

What the hell?

But all of this pales in comparison to what I’ve been seen schlepping around the house wearing on the days I work from home.

Now, I like clothes, they’re fun, they’re a good way of expressing myself and they cover my shameful nakedness. But when it comes to what I wear when I’m sitting at my home computer, the word that best sums up my fashion style in the recent past is: stretchy. Give me an elasticated waste and an over-sized top any day I always thought.

Now there’s room in everyone’s life for an elasticated waist, in my opinion. Who wants to feel corseted when you’re lounging on the couch watching a movie and eating your body weight in chocolate? But when your life starts to become little more than tracksuits and yoga pants, something has been lost in the sartorial splendor department.

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Before

And then of course there are my ugg boots. Ancient and floppy they are now so devoid of wool inside you’d think they were made from a sheep afflicted by alopecia. They also have a hole in the end through which peaks my big toe like a little helmeted hermit peeking out his front door.

All this goes to say that when you work from home standards can slip when it comes to the old personal grooming. I’m not saying that teeth are unbrushed and hair is uncombed (although the latter has been treated as optional on occasion), but the ‘outfits’ I have been donning in recent times veered little from the fleece-lined jersey variety.

So I have decided to break free from my slob clothes and dress anew on the days I work from home. I’ll not only be applying a little more finesse to my at-home work outfits (see the ‘after’ photo) but I’ve decided I’m going to take the opportunity to wear those items I’ve bought in the past but haven’t been brave enough to wear out in public.

After

After

There’s the electric blue suede cowboy boots, they’ll get a few outings; the baggy legged skant (pants with a skirt over the top) that’ll get a work out; and then of course there’s the floor length grey wool maxi skirt I bought a few years ago. I know maxi skirts are a thing but this one is less 21st century fashion and more “Hello, 1893 called and it wants its clothing back”.

So I know I may look a little like someone’s mad Aunt Martha in these items but who’s going to see me? (Apart from Gerry but, God love him, he’s used to it.) I may frighten a few deliverymen and the odd Jehovah’s Witness, but I think they’ll survive. At least they won’t be greeted by a tracksuit wearing nightmare sporting a lumpy red cardi and a pair of ugg boots that should have been euthanised years ago.

That’s gotta be an improvement, right?

A room of her own

 

Where I would like to write and where I actually do write are in large part two very different places.

I’ve set up a space in our house that we call the writing room. It’s one of our three bedrooms and in it I’ve put my grandmother’s old dining table for a desk (tiny for a dining table, really. Clearly people were thinner and needed far less elbow room in the 1920s). It faces the doors that look out onto the path and rock wall that is immediately outside our front door. On top of the rock wall is our front garden, so the view from the writing room is pretty and green.

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The view from my room.

There’s a side table on which sit various knick-knacks for the cats to knock over with the furry little butts as they clamber by. I have a desk chair, an overstuffed and very disorganised filing cabinet, some bookshelves and a printer. It’s a very fine set-up. And until recently, I almost never did any writing in there.

Where I do most of my writing is sitting in the window seat of a State Rail train. I perch on an inadequately padded bench seat, my laptop balanced on my knees and I write from the Central Coast to Hornsby, every morning for 40 minutes. I don’t write on the return trip because I usually don’t have a brain by that time in the day – it’s been pummelled into submission by an entire day’s gainful employment.

The success of my writing schedule on my commute I believe can be attributed largely to one thing: I am a captive audience. I have nowhere else to go, little else I can do and as I’ve established this routine over (sadly) many years now, I am completely compliant to it. As soon as I step into that sterile blue space, my writing brain just clicks into gear.

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Thank you State Rail.

There are also few distractions: no TV to be watched, no partners to talk to, no cats to feed, no housework to do or urgent eBay research to conduct. The landscape we travel through is too rugged for internet reception, so I can’t go snaking around email, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, or Pinterest as I do at home. So it’s just me, the laptop, the view and 50 silent and slightly cranky commuters who will fillet anyone who tries to make noise (thank God for quiet carriage Nazis – although one did tell me once I was typing too loudly).

But, I refuse to give up on the dream and indeed am pulling closer to it day by day. The moving ornaments (aka the cats) hang out with me in the writing room whenever I’m in there so that’s motivating. Also, I work from home a couple of days a week now so slowly my beleaguered brain is (in a distinctively Pavlovian way) coming to accept it as a place of work and concentration.

Really, it doesn’t matter where you write as long as you do it. And I’m the last person to hold out for some idyllic place in the country or by the sea, before I can get to work. But I love my little writing room (or a little room to write, as it were – get it?!) I put a lot of time and care into setting it up and dammit, I’m not going to let it go to waste.

What was it Virginia Woolf said? “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. Well, at least I have the latter…

*Where to do you write best? At the kitchen table? In a basement? Taking up a café table in town? I’d love to know what works for other people.

Banishing writer’s block

Sometimes when you write, you sit down at your computer and the words come tripping from your fingers, practically stumbling over each other in their haste to get on the page.

But other times it all comes to a screeching halt and like a gobstopper over your windpipe, suddenly there’s no air and certainly no words. Those tricky little buggers have deserted you and they show little sign of coming back. You look at the computer screen, that cursor blinking at you accusingly and suddenly your 500-2000 word daily limit may as well be an interstellar distance so vast it’s over in the delta quadrant (Star Trek tragics will know what I’m talking about here – live long and prosper my nerdling brethren).

Anyway, mostly I’m lucky because this doesn’t happen to me too often, but when it does, it feels like I’ve been smacked in the forehead by a brick wall. It’s this very sensation that has inspired me, over the years, to come up with a few tricks for getting the word river flowing again. If this has happened to you, read on and maybe some of my subterfuge will trick your brain back to work like it does mine.

 Free writing

I do this to wake my brain the hell up mostly on the train at the start of my long morning commute. Basically, you just write whatever comes into your head, editing nothing. It’s meant to wake you up and help turn off your internal critic. To be honest, mine is part journal, part free writing, but I have to be careful with the journal part because, given that I’m writing it on the train at an obscene time in the morning, my writing can turn into one massive whinge fest. Usually about how tired I am. It’s very tedious. But in general free writing is like applying WD40 to a creaky old push mower and before I know it I’m cutting my word count down for the day.

Going for a walk

Or whatever exercise does it for you – being scandalously unfit, walking is good enough for me. I find this is most helpful when I’ve woken up feeling a bit flat and duller than a blonde brick fence. I know that in this frame of mind my writing will have all the charm and vibrancy of a wet sock and so I need to get the endorphins going. The best thing for that, I’ve found is a bit of exercise. It’s also good for calming the brain if that’s the problem – you know when your thoughts are pinging around like a flea on steroids and you just need to focus. That’s when I use a little mindfulness on my walk. I don’t concentrate on my breathing (if I do this I end up hyperventilating – I’m just neurotic enough that I start to doubt whether I have this breathing thing right at all. Too fast? Too slow? Too shallow? You get the idea). Instead, I concentrate my attention on the sounds and colours around me – calms my brain right down.

Reading over my work

I find that reading the last few paragraphs or the last chapter of what I’ve written can be enough to get me into that writing brain space. I have enough of an ego to be thoroughly entranced by my own words, so I may as well use this to my advantage.

Housework

This let’s your mind wander while keeping you occupied and it’s relaxing enough that I find it helps to get the brain into that creative head space. But you have to be careful that it’s something you’re happy to do and not something you find too tedious and irritating. So for example, the washing up is my go-to activity for a helpfully tedious creative limber up. But putting the washing on the line just annoys the snot out of me because the Hills Hoist is lopsided so every time I put a towel up there the whole the just swings out of my grasp and I have to hang on to it with one hand while trying to get those little pegs up the right way and all I want to do is yank that thing out of the ground with my bare hands and throw it across the yard! I think you get the picture.

Listen to or watch an interesting podcast/documentary

This is great if you’re feeling a bit dull because it can really get the brain sparking with new ideas. I have a number of brilliant podcasts I listen to that inspire loads new stories. And as I writer I’m open to plundering ideas wherever I can get them. Some of my faves are: This American Life, Conversations with Richard Fidler, Criminal, Strangers, Late Night Live and The Moth Podcast.

So that’s it, that’s how I beat the dreaded writer’s block. Hopefully, these tips will be of some use to you, too. But if all that fails, just bear in mind the sage words of author Phillip Pullman:

“If you can’t think of what to write, tough luck: write anyway”

*What are your tricks for getting the creative brain going?