If this is your first NaNo, you might not have thought of your personal comfort as you were making your plans. Your main thought might have been, “How on earth am I going to get up to 1,667 words every day, day after day, for thirty days??” Where you planned to sit while you were doing was probably not on the radar at all. But by Day 8, that might now have changed. You may have developed some definite ideas, and you may occasionally mutter to yourself, “Believe me, I will plan things differently next time.”
Our personal comfort—or lack thereof—often influences how well or how badly we write. You’d be surprised what subtle things can influence how you feel while you’re writing and even influence how your words come out. For example, when I was first beginning to write stories as a teen, I was on a typewriter (yes, it was some while ago), and the stories I wrote on typewriters with green keys had a different flavor to the ones with black keys. I am not kidding.
So let’s take a first look at some of the things that you might want to think of next time, or even for the rest of this month, with respect to where you write and what you have around you when you write. Today’s topic is what I’m calling “first-level comforts,” dealing with the actual setting in which you are working as well as that all-important piece of furniture, the chair you happen to be sitting on while you write.
Keep in mind that of course some of these things will only apply to writing sessions where you sit and write in a special spot, without interruption. Not all of this will apply if you have to do most of your NaNoing while sneaking in a few paragraphs once an hour or so, all day at work or at school. In those circumstances, you have rather less choice about the setting in which you write. So keep that in mind as we go on.
On the official NaNo site, if you go into the discussion forums for your own region or locality, you’ll notice that there are often planned activities where local people get together someplace and hold a joint writing session. I’ve never been to one of these, so I don’t know whether they function the way they’re heralded, allowing some real writing to get done, or whether they just turn into sessions of socializing and people getting to know their fellow NaNoers. This socializing can be valuable too, if you need some encouragement to keep you going for the next few days, but right now, I’m talking about joint writing sessions where people actually write.
Some people are actually spurred on when they know that the people around them are doing the same work that they are. I mean, if everyone around you has his or her head bowed over a keyboard or keypad of some sort, you might feel a bit awkward sitting there, staring into space. So you might buckle down and get to it, increasing your chances of getting some intense writing done.
Others might be distracted by being around a bunch of other people who are all supposed to be doing the same sort of writing. “What if everyone gets a thousand words done, and I can’t think of a word to say? I’ll feel so stupid! And what if we’re expected to actually let others read what we’ve written? I can’t do that—not right on the spot, when I haven’t decided yet whether I’ve written anything worth reading!” For some people, especially those who are somewhat self-conscious, shy, or introverted, being around others who are doing the same thing is probably not an encouragement; it’s more likely to be a pressure. And rather than being energized to write, this sort of situation can sometimes freeze the writer instead. A joint session may in fact stifle the writing rather than help it progress.
My own case is a bit different from that of most people I know. I do mostly write alone at home, primarily because I work from home, so that’s inevitably how it will work out. But I’m an introvert who, on some occasions, actually rather likes being around people, just as long as I don’t know any of them and have no obligation to talk to (or especially be talked to by!) a single person in sight. I’m my own little self-contained bubble who sits there observing and, most importantly, thinking. And for some reason, this detachment-yet-immersion energizes me just enough that I can really write well, and write a lot, under such circumstances. I’ve done this on a laptop, but most often, I’ve done it by hand, in a notebook. I sit by myself at a table in a coffee place (in Canada, it might be The Second Cup or Timothy’s or Starbucks), and as I sip at my tea using my left hand, I write with my right hand. I sometimes look around at my neighbors or out the windows at traffic or pedestrians or trees, and then I write another paragraph or two. I have also done the NaNo and succeeded, several times, while being at work, surrounded by people. I have written thousands of words over the years in an office, taking a lunch break when nobody is bothering me but I’m at my desk with people all around.
So it depends on how well you function when you’re around people. You may need to be completely alone and write in total silence (more about the silence in tomorrow’s post), or you may get just enough buzz from the general energy of people around you that your own energy really flows. Once you figure out what summons up your writing energy and makes it flow, try to arrange to get into that sort of situation as often as you can.
THE COMFY CHAIR!
(If you are familiar with Monty Python sketches, you will undoubtedly read the above heading in exactly the sort of voice that I do. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inqui—” But never mind. Look it up.)
If you write primarily at home, you may be able to arrange your own dedicated spot where you do the writing. But here’s where an interesting dilemma might rear its head. You might discover that you can actually become too comfortable when you’re writing. Believe it or not, you might actually want to tone down the comforts of home.
Comfort? The pros
The pros seem easy. You are sitting in a great chair that feels good to sit in and allows proper posture without making you stiff, so you are free of the urge to constantly shift position. Trying to find a comfortable position on an uncomfortable chair can really be distracting. So having a place to sit that isn’t consistently drawing your attention away from the actual writing can be a very good thing.
You may also write better when you feel good. You’re in a good mood, you’re happy—the words may flow better when your whole attitude is positive. Writing is an enjoyable activity, and it may flow better when you’re already in a mood that opens up the channels for it.
You’re in a good, familiar place, perhaps your bedroom or your already preferred writing nook. This place is you. So it’s bound to help you reach into yourself for that story that is also so very “you,” and it’s sure to allow you to get that story out.
Comfort? The cons
The pros are what you immediately think of when you think of being comfortable while you write. I mean—you’re comfortable! Duh. That’s automatically a good thing. Right?
Maybe not. Picture this. You settle down into that really comfortable chair with your hot chocolate. You put on some soft, instrumental, kind of dreamy music in the background that sets the mood you want to write to, even while still not distracting you from the task at hand. And you are so comfortable that you slip into a kind of daydream, so relaxed that your mind drifts off until you are either napping or are so far from the energy of writing that you might as well not be there at all.
Sometimes a little discomfort can actually spur you on. It can create energy and add some drive. You’ve got some adrenalin going, because in fact, you are emotionally roused by that chair that just doesn’t quite let you sink down into it. Even if the discomforts are small, they are creating a tiny clash of emotions and thoughts that are running through your mind, churning things up. The effects may be subtle, but they may also be quite real.
Some people actually interrupt their comfort by getting up and walking around, mulling things over as they pace when they’re stuck at a certain spot in their writing. Writing in a single, unchangingly pleasant fog might occasionally be an obstacle to jarring your mind out of a rut it’s gotten itself into. What might create enough impetus to jar you out of a spot of monotony might actually be a bit of discomfort that shakes things up. This is something to consider as you set yourself up for writing.
Remember how doctors who deal with insomniacs advise that we use our bed for sleeping and not for other things like TV-watching or reading? The reasoning is that if it’s the place where we do everything else too, our minds will feel just as normal associating the bed with being awake as they do associating it with being asleep. However, if our beds are the place where we sleep and only sleep (well, in addition to another night-time activity that is sporadic and which tends to relax us enough to sleep), then our minds will be conditioned to turn toward sleep when we put ourselves in that sleeping spot.
The same thing might apply to the place (and furniture!) in which you choose to do your writing. If you are trying to write at the same desk where you eat meals, do homework, play games, surf the Internet, or text your friends, your mind might automatically go down those same paths rather than turn and cooperate in concentrating on the NaNo. It will be more inclined to follow its usual habits than go in this direction that requires so much more of it.
Consider the location and conditions under which you write. If you are “stuck” and there there’s even a slight chance that it’s the circumstances under which you are writing that are the problem, change the circumstances. Do an experiment for three days or so, where you write in a different location, use a different computer, sit in a different chair. It might make a difference.