Friday, 17 January 2014

Little Bits of Happy a Writer 'Needs'

Writers can be a funny bunch.

 They love their vocation with a passion when it's working well, to the point of wanting to do it to the exclusion of... pretty much everything else, really. However, when it's not working at all, every second of doing the thing they once loved so much becomes a kind of slow, cruel torture - an exercise in futility that brings nothing but self-loathing and despair. So they... keep on doing it anyway, because not doing it is, somehow, even worse...

But there's another side to many writers that perhaps only the loved ones of writers are aware of. Because many writers have what might be described as 'quirks.' 'Fetishes,' if you like. No - not those kind of fetishes.... well okay, maybe, but that's not my business and I'm not planning to 'out' anyone here, so deep breaths, relax, etc. No, I'm talking about seemingly innocuous, everyday things that writers like. I mean, really like. A lot. Things that probably promote little more than a 'meh' from non-writers, but fill a writer's heart with sweet, fizzy joy.

I used to think it was just me being a bit geeky - but after discussions with other writers it soon became clear that these little sources of happy were shared by many of us. So here, without further ado and all that, are just a few of the Writer's Secret Little Fetishes. How many can you put a tick next to?


* - Pens!
Pens are things of beauty. That slender shape, their weight in your hand, the pretty rainbow of colours and designs they come in... a writer can never - NEVER - have 'too many pens.' The concept simply doesn't exist. This applies even if you hardly ever use pens anymore. These days, around 95% of my 'writing' is actually typingtapping away at some keyboard or other. Typing is faster - and, if I make a mistake, correcting it is easy, takes mere seconds and leaves no trace of the original error behind.

But that doesn't mean I don't love pens. I do. Love. Pens. Desire pens. Covet pens like a miser covets his secret stash of gold bullion... to the point where I can be... *squirms*... slightly possessive of the ones I call 'mine.' I have a husband I love dearly, but he 'borrows' pens and then treats them as if they're just... things to write with, goddammit! As in, once 'borrowed,' he not only doesn't return them but (and I advise you to sit down at this point if you're of a delicate disposition) he doesn't retract the nib/put the cap back on when he's finished writing with them. So they dry up. And DIE!!!

When the pen in question is one of a pack of five from Poundland ('cos even cheap pens are lovely) this is annoying. But when it's a Special Pen - one you picked out individually from a sea of pens in a proper pen shop because you just saw it and liked it... well, every writer knows a small puppy cries every time a Special Pen dries up.

So yeah, if I see my poor husband hovering around my pen tub with a certain look on his face I do have this tendency to get my Gollum on now. "Nooooo.... you can't have the preciousssss! I bought you some pens last week - use your owwwwnnnn!!" And many of my writer friends have assured me they feel the same way. Which makes it not crazy at all.

* - Notepads and notebooks!
That's as in the old-fashioned, paper-filled ones - not the computer-y things.

As with pens, the same rules apply; it is utterly beyond the concept of reality to have 'too many' notebooks and notepads. The reason is simple. Sometimes even writers who write mostly on computers like to go places where computers aren't and scribble down ideas and brain dumps, and the good old notebook and pen is still the idea combo for that. But 'story ideas' are completely different from 'notes on a current work-in-progress,' and both of those are nowhere near the same as a 'writing journal' - which is not to be confused with 'morning pages'... So of course you can't just stick all those things in one book, together - no, that's just insanity! You need separate books, for each separate type of scribbling... preferably with nice patterns or soothing pictures on the cover, that reflect the different natures of the writing inside.. Oh yes, the endless variety of pretty covers - some so special and beautiful they deserve to have you devise a new type of writing altogether, just for them...

This is why I have shelves full of pretty notebooks; my local fire station could justifiably class my house as a hazard zone. Most of those notebooks have no more than the first three pages filled - some are still as blank as the day I bought them (possibly years ago now - hell, I don't even remember.) But they're there, looking gorgeous and waiting for their moment in the sun. It may come for them, one day. But if it doesn't... it's no biggie. They don't have to prove themselves to me - they had me at "that'll be four pounds ninety-nine, please..."

* - Writing 'how-to' books!
Here's a social experiment; leave a random book about the craft of writing on a table somewhere and see how many writers can resist picking it up and looking through it. The answer is highly likely to be none. It doesn't even need to cover a writing genre they're interested in - chances are they'll still, at the very least, read the blurb on the back. I personally have never had any desire to write romance novels and probably never will. So if I saw a book called 'How to Write Romance Novels' would I give it a go? Hell yeah! A writer wrote this book - and I'm a writer too! That practically makes us siblings!

Besides, if the first best thing in the world for a writer to be doing is writing, the second-best thing is reading about writing. We're insatiably curious about how others do it, especially if they've done it well enough to gain a ton of respect - okay, and/or money - in the process. Writing is lonely sometimes. We need the odd reminder we're not the only nutcases doing this crazy thing.

* - Specifically 'Writing-Friendly' Sustenance!
Everyone - even non-writer types - has their little foodie/drinkie vices; the special treats they indulge in when they need a little emotional TLC. But many writers have at least one special type of comfort sustenance that they will swear, with hand on their heart, helps them to write. Some regard it as an essential requirement for the process, insisting that without it they cannot write at all; others will turn to it when they feel blocked or that their work has become stale, like a tried-and-trusted home remedy. Coffee seems to be a popular one (specifically good-quality, 'proper' coffee - none of that instant muck, apparently.) Hemingway would probably have said 'alcohol.' Mine is chocolate.

It's all in our minds of course; as far as I know there is no scientific evidence that favourite treats have any specific effect - chemical or otherwise - on the creative synapses in our brains. Whatever. Science Schmience - pass me those Magic Stars, I've got a cranky chapter of my work-in-progress to write...

* - Their Special 'Writing Place!'
I left this one 'til last because it's the most important. Virginia Woolfe famously talked of having 'a room of one's own' for writing. Which is lovely if you've got a spare room going begging... but not all of us are lucky enough to have that. What almost every writer who's serious about their work does have though, is some kind of designated space where they always go to do their writing; be it a permanent fixture like a desk wedged in a corner of a room, a specific comfy chair that's universally acknowledged by the whole household to be 'the writing chair,' or a kitchen table that's commandeered part-time whenever it's... not being a kitchen table. It's the Special Writing Place we call our own. And boy, do we call it our own...

Like cats, writers can be territorial. Even with a part-time writing space like a kitchen table. We have no problem with it being a kitchen table when we're doing things other than writing... but when we are in residence - it is NO LONGER A KITCHEN TABLE, y'hear?  Seriously. So here's the deal - and listen up, because this is important. All the time our Special Writing Place is being our Special Writing Place, you DO NOT put your stuff in or on it. Not even temporarily. You don't take or even move any of the stuff we've placed in our Special Writing Place - not even if it's on fire, just call us. And you definitely, definitely do not hover over us doing that face that means "when are you going to be finished here?" Take it as read that The Hovering Thing will never be welcome in our Special Writing Place. Remember these simple tips and we will have no need to snarl at your approach like a feral animal anymore. You're welcome.


These endearing little quirks of ours were never intended to be a thorn in the side of our loved ones, and we like to think most of them aren't that troublesome. But living with a writer is never going to be a run-of-the-mill experience... and at least we're not out robbing banks or something, hey?

Well - not in real life, anyway...


  1. I am absolutely anal about people borrowing my pens. Seriously I go ape shit if anything happens to my lovelies and if they suck them or chew them aaaargh, Thar she blows... yes, even if it's my favourite bic biro.

    Not so much the how to books but a lot of books on different ways to fail abysmally to sell my books to anyone. Phnark.



    1. Chew on pens? CHEW. On. PENS?? Oh my days, there's a loophole in the murder laws for that one, isn't there? Please tell me there is..!