Dame Hilary Mantel published her first novel at the age of 33. Over the next three decades, she wrote twelve books of historical fiction, two collections of short stories, and a memoir. She was the first woman to twice win the Booker Prize for fiction. I’d say she knew a thing or two about writing.
Dame Hilary also had something to say about not writing: “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Dame Hilary’s advice. If I hit a blank or sticky spot in my writing, and I go for a walk in a quiet area of the park, words show up in my brain. When I reach home, I’m ready to hit the keyboard.
But if I go somewhere there are people talking, or turn on the news, or call up a friend, no words appear. There’s no room for them.
Perhaps making a pie isn’t an activity you would choose when your writing isn’t flowing. But think about what activities would allow that necessary space for your words to grow. Make a list of those writing catalysts; then keep your list handy for the next time you begin to feel stuck.
Taking a bath might seem like a strange way to work on your writing. But if that’s what helps you create space for your words, you might need to invest in a waterproof notebook.