By: Sophie Constable
Sometimes it seems that the only part of my writing brain that is exercised at my desk job is that concerned with grammar and punctuation. Sure, all those hours fund my writing courses and book habit, but meanwhile I can only sit at my desk waving goodbye to fabulous plot bunnies speeding away to more nurturing pastures.
But, with a bit of work, it’s not necessary for my better half to wither from neglect. The daily grind provides lots of opportunities to exercise your writing muscles. For example:
- What would your ms characters do if saddled with your daily issues? The bitchy lady in accounts? The sobbing client? The super-dad at the water cooler?
- Editing a project report? Apply fiction writing principles to make it more engaging: who are the characters? Are we hooked in the first paragraph? Does the chain of events flow? Do stumbling blocks disrupt the hero’s (ahem) co-worker’s journey? Is there mid-report lag? Is the ending satisfying?
- Flying and can’t pull out your ms in front of your boss? Observe those around you. Imagine the backstories of the high and closely packed.
- Stuck in a boring meeting? Describe the clients, boiling them down to a few contrasting descriptors. Compare and contrast everyone’s nose.
- Driving for hours? Narrate the journey as it’d be written by different authors. Try Stephen King or Michael Crichton; then Enid Blyton, Salman Rushdie or George R.R. Martin.
- Have a notebook in your bag or use a notes file or sound file on your phone to note down ideas and phrases before you lose them.
If your day job is a mum, sometimes each day is just about surviving the next hour. But sometimes, two lives can coexist.
- Edit your small, beloved, read-aloud stories. Smite unnecessary words and sentences. Distill each page to a single word if the beloved is particularly cranky.
- Figure out why Puffin Rock, Octonauts or Pocoyo is working. Is it the dialogue? The characterization? How are they maintaining narrative tension?
- Act out your ms with Lego™ figures or visualize it with blocks or puzzle pieces. What are the most important bits? See if you can rearrange them into a tighter story, culling scenes that aren’t pulling their weight. So the beloved crashes your plot with a teddy/book/sippy cup? Go with it. What does that represent? What’s missing?
And if all else fails, visualize the pressure cooker of writing talent that is building up. All that pressure, unvented, burning hotter and hotter, burning away the dregs, eventually has to produce a diamond.
Sophie Constable has worked as a veterinarian and Antarctic researcher, been an expat trophy wife in the Middle East and did her PhD on health education with remote Australian Indigenous communities. Throughout, writing has remained her passion. She was awarded the NT Literary Award for her short story “Khmoc” and shortlisted in the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award for her novel Bloodline. This year she is excited to be part of the ACT Writers Centre HARDCOPY program. Sophie blogs at www.dogeared.com.au