“So what are your plans for the weekend?”
This is a polite and innocuous question that on Fridays relieves the need to talk about the weather. In the employee dining room of my employer, 200 diverse individuals come in waves at lunch time to congregate at communal tables. On this particular Friday, already a few mouthfuls into my salad I was more into my own thoughts than the repartee around me. I was about to respond “I need to get Gorman away from the village market and in front of Thederie to find out if either of them recognizes the other”. There would have been silence around the rectangular blue laminate tables and more than a few sideways glances — this is not a group that knows about my writing pursuits. Out of context they might imagine me as a part time social worker.
The situation with Gorman and Thederie is a key plot point in a young adult novel that I am writing and it had been on my mind all week. I really don’t know how the scene is going to play out. This happens a lot. I become a spectator at the keyboard as my characters do what they are supposed to, somehow without my intervention.
In a different environment, for example at a communal table at a writing retreat or a conference my response would be understood. Writing is not my day job but it is never far from my thoughts. My characters poke at the psyche and occupy the gaps in my busy days. I do not outline but try and set goals that are like push pins on a road map. Natalie Goldberg in one of her books spoke of this technique. She was discussing the routine she used to write her novel Banana Rose. Natalie knew as she sat down with pen in hand that she had to get her character Nell to Denver (or something similar). I do most of my writing on weekends so perhaps I am less social on Fridays with a growing preoccupation of what the writing goal should be.
Natalie also recommends carefully planning a writing schedule, even if for only a short period. Make a commitment and show up. I block time to achieve four hours each week for writing practice and current projects. Saturdays are typically one of the blocks of time, sipping loose leaf tea while my daughter dances.
I find scarcity breeds a level of focus, give me a small block of time and I will light up the keyboard. Give me a full day and Monkey mind will have me doing everything but writing. For similar reasons, get me out of the house.
A while back I returned from a trip to Canada. Another very similar question was asked “What did you do on your trip?” For those that know of my ‘hobby’, I enthusiastically respond that I spent time writing in two of my favorite coffee houses. I had a sense of being in a great place and the accomplishment of writing for two hours at a round glass table at the Wired Monk in Crescent Beach BC, or reading the Red Ravine blog before writing at the Snug Café on Bowen Island. Writers enjoy very different landscapes when they travel.
So what are you going to do this weekend? Or tomorrow? Or when you travel? For the sake of clever conversation, there is always the weather, but look around with the pen or the keyboard, was it raining on you or your characters.