The Loneliness of a Long Distance Writer
Writing is almost as much about ritual as it is about imagination, sweat and sheer willpower. You’ll find most writers have their own personal charms to get them in the zone. For some this can simply be a glass of wine, or a coffee with a chunky Kit-Kat, while others can’t get down to work without whale song piping from their speakers sometimes preceded by ten minutes of meditation, breathing exercises and yoga. Anything goes. It’s all about tricking the brain into opening up and spilling out those precious pearls of perfect prose. Um… alliteration can also be a useful tool.
To get the creative juices flowing, my own ritual revolves around a fusion of music and light. The light provided by four strategically placed Philips Hue globes, tweaked via the supplied app to give a soft focus fairy-grotto ambience. Candles or draped strings of coloured LEDs left over from Xmas work wonders, too. The music is basically whatever iTunes Playlist takes my fancy at the time. Add a glass of gin and a smoke to the mix and I fall into automatic writing mode.
You think this sounds over the top? In that case I’m so glad I never mentioned the glass shelf positioned above my screen where a collection crystals and polished agates are aligned with geometric precision against a phalanx of collectable Zippo lighters, providing me with a focal point to gaze into infinity when considering the merits of the humble colon over the more elaborate semi-colon.
So what happens when the writer gets uprooted from their cosy life-support pods and forced to work in unfamiliar surroundings? For the past six years I’ve been mostly working away from home, living out of a suitcase in a succession of bland and soulless hotel rooms. In theory there’s nothing stopping me getting on with whatever book I’m writing, but getting the magic to seamlessly flow from my fingertips to the screen when away from home isn’t so easy.
Sure, I can stick on my headphones and drip-feed my favourite songs into my bloodstream. I can bring along a string of Xmas lights and drape them over my laptop. I can even keep myself supplied in gin - but there’s always something going on the background to distract and derail my normally dependable train of thought.
Sometimes it’s an inconsiderate clown in the room upstairs Morris-dancing with wooden clogs. Other times it’s the badly hung curtains (six degrees off kilter, I checked with a spirit level app), or weird-shaped stains on the carpet (one definitely resembled a silhouette of Barbara Cartland). After this comes the unpredictable sound of flushing behind the bathroom wall or the hotel air con deciding to impersonate a B52 bomber. And that’s without going into how distracting it can be when the people through the wall decide to have mattress-busting noisy sex without first asking if I mind or not.
Now, instead of slavishly devoting myself to ensuring those pesky sub plots converge properly or trying to subtly drop in a red herring without it stinking up the place like a two-week-old kipper or simply determining a minor character’s fate (pause to check current body count), I find myself looking at Facebook and Twitter. Distractions within distractions, and minor character is getting impatient awaiting his fate as I procrastinate over a picture of a friend’s grilled prawn curry.
I quickly decide to kill off minor character to cover up my own ragged attention span. Minor character isn’t happy and says he’ll be talking to his Union Rep. I now realise I’ve been hitting the gin too hard
I decide to go to bed and sleep. Tomorrow is always another day. I might even buy another Philips Hue globe. And a Zippo. It’s the alignment that’s important.