What Do You Need To Write?

1970s style laptop = a notebook!

I was asked to write about this for a class exercise once and I thought it was worth revisiting.

The things I (think) I need in order to write are:

1. Something to write on and with
2. A seat
3. Time
4. Peace!
5. A ‘clear mind’
6. A deadline
7. A good idea – or preferably a few

You’ve probably got a similar list. You may have added ‘coffee!’ or ‘an audience’ or ‘bills to pay’. If your list consists of just,
“a pen and paper”, then I applaud you.

Because all the other things we convince ourselves we ‘need’ in order to write are, let’s face it ‘nice to have’ but not really necessary. Often they’re just excuses for procrastinating.

Let’s have a look at mine:

1. Something to write on and with. OK, this is fairly necessary. But I used to think I had to plonk myself in front of a PC before I could ‘compose’ and of course, that’s rubbish. I can just as easily use a 1970s laptop (ie: a notebook!) or a scrap of paper – or the back of my hand. None of those great writers of the past used computers and they managed, somehow.

2. A seat. I like to sit when I write but this isn’t actually necessary either! I remember reading an interview with Marian Keyes in which she admitted she writes in bed in her pyjamas (bliss!) and in the 19th century it was, apparently, common to write standing up at a writing desk. Lewis Carroll, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and presumably lots of others, all wrote standing up. And American author Philip Roth still does today.

Some writers, Agatha Christie amongst them, liked to write in the bath and others took all their clothes off in order to write! (ah ha, this is where I’m going wrong!). Read more about those naturist-writers here.

3. Time. A tricky one this. See my article on procrastination for more. We can fool ourselves that unless we have lots of time, we can’t write. But you can write quite a lot in ten minutes. And everyone has ten minutes to spare, at some point in a day, don’t they? Wait until you have hours at your disposal before you ‘start’ and you could be waiting for ever. And I find, that when I have lots of time stretching ahead of me, I actually write the least.

4. Peace. I can write ‘first draft’ stuff in a cafe or a library, even if it’s a bit noisy because essentially I’m on my own and I can block out the hubbub. But I can’t write with other people in the room (who, heaven forbid, might want to engage me in conversation!) or if I’m seriously ‘wrestling’ with something. I wish I could. The vet James Herriot used to write all his books sitting in front of the tele’, with his family chattering around him (and probably a few dogs and cats on his lap/feet too). It worked for him but that wouldn’t work for me. I have to switch off.

Stephen King recommends shutting yourself away in a room and facing a blank wall (not even a window) because you are supposed to be ‘creating’ a world – you don’t want to be distracted by the ‘real’ one.

5. A clear mind. It’s hard to write if you’re worried about something or you’ve got other things pressing for your attention. But having said that, writing is a great ‘escape’ and it can help you to switch off – even just for a few minutes. It might even help to write down what’s troubling you. So using a ‘clear mind’ as an excuse to write doesn’t really wash either, does it?

6. A deadline. This works best for me! Let’s face it, you have to be very self-motivated and driven to write. There’s no guarantee of being published or paid or adored by a mass of fans – or whatever it is you want to achieve. So a deadline, for me, is like an invisible taskmaster, giving me a goal to work towards. The pressure to produce something for a deadline, (a competition, a fortnightly submission to my writing buddy or a ‘performance’), really brings out the best in my writing – and, more importantly, makes me do it!

7. A good idea. Again, if you’re waiting for that jaw-droppingly original idea to pop into your head, you may never write anything. Most ideas have already been thought of – it’s your take on it that will make it original, different and hopefully better than the rest! I realised recently that I was using this ‘good idea’ thing as an excuse for not starting a novel. The best advice anyone’s given me, is just to WRITE!

There you go. It’s perhaps worth asking yourself – what do I REALLY need to write? Because when you boil it right down, you don’t need much – do you?

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One Response to What Do You Need To Write?

  1. susan Jones says:

    Hi Helen.

    Definately a good quality ink pen works well for me and good sized lined paper. I often find when the weather’s fine, sitting in the back garden in a quiet corner with a lime and tonic drink is good for the creative flow.

    Then again, scribbling with a pencil in an old notebook when I’m behind the counter at work, has produced articles that have sold quicker than my favoured choices.

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