In a parallel universe there is an ideal writing space waiting for me. It’s a sun-lit room with a comfy chair, a large desk and gorgeous views stretching along a tropical beach and out across the ocean. I have plenty of time on my hands and, of course, no stress or interruptions whatsoever.
Ahh, how wonderful. In reality, time is often pressured, space is generally limited and the modern world offers never-ending distractions. Which is why I have created this getting ready ritual, so that I can quickly slip into the ‘writing zone’.
Here it is:
Catch a moment
Sometimes I only have five minutes to write. But even that can be enough to give me a quick injection of healing creativity. Occasionally I’ll plan my writing time in advance (if I know I’ll be making a train journey, for example). Mostly, though, I take it on the spur of the moment – if I’ve arrived early to pick someone up, if I happen to wake in the early hours of the morning, or if it turns out I still have some energy before bed. When strict time keeping is a priority, I set a timer and tell myself that I will allow just those five/ten/fifteen minutes and no more. But no less, either – there’s no point cheating myself out of a chance to relax.
Adapt the space
When I was working in London, I used to spend the beginning and end of my working day cramped on a tube train. I learnt the art of writing on my smartphone, positioning myself so that I could tap away without anyone seeing my screen. A small corner by the door suddenly becomes an unexpected writing haven. I’ve written at bus stops, in car parks, in bed… Whatever space there is to work wih, I try to make it as comfortable as possible. And privacy is vital. I make sure no one else can peer over my shoulder. Then I can let my mind drift into a wide open creative space, free from the anxiety of being observed. Admittedly, it takes practice to write in some places. The distractions of public transport can be too much sometimes. Or writing on a tiny screen can be unhelpful when you’re trying to be creative. Work with whatever you’ve got in that moment and adapt it – or yourself – to the environment as best you can.
Know your tools
On my bookshelf at home I have a selection of brand new notebooks, all eager to be used next. Some have colourful patterns on the front; others have practical ring-bound spines. I prefer to write by hand when I can. There’s something intensely satisfying about putting pen to paper and, afterwards, holding in my hand a piece of writing that’s tangible and all mine. But I don’t carry my notepad with me everywhere. If I’m out, I might beg a scrap of paper and a pen from somewhere. Otherwise, I write on my phone. It’s good to have options, so when a spare window of time presents itself I’m ready to take full advantage.
–Tools for privacy…
Sometimes the best way to write is to just splurge your thoughts and emotions on the page in a free flow way. However, if you are a very private person, like me, then you might not like the idea that someone could happen upon your ramblings. In this case, I suggest one of two options:
- Write in pencil and equip yourself with a good rubber so that you can erase your words at the end of your writing session.
- Write on laminate with a washable marker and wash your words away when you are finished. I love this option. For me, there is something soothing and freeing about seeing the words melt off the laminate and disappear.
–Tools for inspiration…
When I’m short on time, I cannot afford to spend ages wondering what I am going to write. I like to have activities to hand that I can get on with straightaway. For me, this is a crucial part of fitting creative writing into a busy schedule. Arm yourself with a selection of go-to writing activities and you’ll never be stuck for creative writing inspiration.
- Arm yourself with Quick Reference Guides. Whether I’m at home or out and about, I like to have easy access to the reference guides at the end of this book. They’re on my smartphone and also scribbled at the back of my notebook. Why? Because I recommend spending a bit of time familiarising yourself with the activities in this book that most appeal to you. Then, when you only have five or ten minutes to spare, you’ll be ready to get on with writing straightaway.
Use a cue
You can have the perfect writing environment and plenty of time on your hands, but if you’re not in the right frame of mind then you’ll be at the mercy of distractions and self-doubt. This is where ‘cues’ come in. These are triggers that your mind associates with certain actions – in this case, writing for relaxation.
My own cue is a photo of a beautiful, deserted beach – where I know I would feel truly relaxed if only I could be writing there. Looking at that beach photo for a few moments helps to get my brain in gear. I see it and on some deeper level my brain knows that it needs to be in writing mode. Of course, your own cue doesn’t have to be visual. It could be a piece of music, a scented candle, a precious object… anything that can be brought out at the beginning of a writing session to signal to your brain: ‘now is the time for writing’. Over time, your brain learns to get itself in writing mode as soon as the cue appears.
‘Researchers have learned that cues can be almost anything, from a visual trigger such as a candy bar or a television commercial to a certain place, a time of day, an emotion, a sequence of thoughts, or the company of particular people.’Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit
–Choosing a portable cue
Depending on the cue you choose, you may not be in a position to activate it any time, any place. That was one of the reasons I chose an image as my trigger. I have it folded in the front of my notebook so it’s close to hand when I’m writing at home and it is also saved on my smartphone for easy access when I’m out and about.
Breath is a vital life force. It gives us energy. We take deep breaths to calm ourselves, to focus our minds and to relieve anxiety. For me, it is vital preparation for writing too. It is the pause before the creativity begins. There are many different deep-breathing techniques, but I like to keep things simple. I take a deep breath in through my nose and then breathe out slowly through my mouth letting all the air out of my lungs. I repeat this process three times. The difference it can make to my state of mind is astounding. As my breath slows, time seems to slow with it. My mind stops racing so furiously. I can think more clearly. I can focus my attention on writing.
‘Your breath is the greatest asset you have. It’s naturally meditative and always with you. It reflects your most powerful emotions and allows you to either soothe or harness them.’Dr Danny Penman, The Art of Breathing
Shake it out
This goes hand in hand with the deep breathing above. I’ve learnt from experience that if my body is tense, then my mind is often tense too. My writing is never quite as free if I don’t address the tension in my physical self. So, as part of my quick getting ready ritual, I do a mental check of my body to see where I might be holding tension. If I can stretch and shake myself out to relax then I do. Or, if that’s not possible (perhaps because of the unusual space I’ve chosen to write in – like a tube train) I allow myself to notice the tension in my body and imagine it melting away as I breathe deeply.
So, the getting ready ritual is complete. If you’ve followed the suggestions above then you’ll have carved out some time to write and created a suitable space. You’ll have your tools at the ready. You will have prepared your mind and body…
Now it’s time to write. Dive in to the activities in my Write to Relax series.