Taking the slow road ~ tarrying not typing(#mywritingprocess)


On the road at #mywritingprocess with thanks to Tiny at tinylessonsblog.com


As others on this writerly blog tour have said, some writers are the bees’ knees at doing anything but write. I would be one of them. When the time comes to sit down at the desk there is the sudden compulsion to go somewhere else – anywhere else. This morning I left the computer to scrub the grout between the bathroom tiles. (So absorbing). Later I mooned over pots of recently sown runner beans, and what? Waited for them to grow? Of course. No writing skills needed in Beanstalk Land, only nifty footwork to elude man-eating giants. (Hm. And I could pick up a golden harp while I was there; learn to play, might inspire me to…) You get the picture.

So what is this doing something else all about? OCDD – obsessive compulsive displacement disorder? Why do we put ourselves through this? It was the first question I asked myself when Helen Kuusela aka Tiny at www.tinylessonsblog.com invited me to join this blog tour. I was so busy asking it, I forgot to thank her. So thank you again, Tiny, and hello to everyone on this fascinating writing safari. I forgive you, one and serially, for putting me on the spot.

As to the OCDD, I have a theory, one based on extensive personal observation. When procrastination sets in, and especially after an early full-of-promise burst, your inner truth-teller is trying to make contact with your writing brain. Something is not quite adding up. This is the moment for some pointed self-examination: are you writing yourself into a dead end? Have you started in the right place? Do the voice/situation/setting ring true? Is your plot/concept/premise sound, and does it truly have sufficient substance and energy to become the story/novel/poem you envisaged? Are you writing from within, or only from the surface?

These can be very painful questions and, rather than rolling them around your mind, I find asking them outright and OUT LOUD has better results. The inner truth-teller seems to respond better to vocalized interrogation. Also, the process of outlining the work to an audience, and by that I mean a willing listener who does not interrupt, can reveal both the intrinsic problems and the possible solutions. As you talk, the remedies to stuckness will likely pop out of your mouth. Listen out for them. A passive listening post is thus an essential aid. Your dog, cat or canary would be a good choice. Successful children’s writer, Michael Morpurgo, says he first outlines his stories to his sheep. And as I write this, I’m thinking that a Dictaphone could be a good idea too. If anyone has other notions on this, please tell me.

And now for THE questions:

1) What am I working on right now? In my head, filing cabinets and paper piles I have many works in various stages of creation: picture book scripts, teen novels, a grandiose scheme (possibly two novels for adults) set in colonial East Africa. This last project I’ve been working on for several years – stalled at various points by doubt; then by the annoying tick that says I need to do more research. (This can be another OCDD trap, so it’s wise to keep checking). I am heartened, though, when I hear writers such as Barbara Kingsolver say that it took her nearly thirty years to acquire the wisdom to write the magnificent Poisonwood Bible, or that Tolkein found himself stuck in the Mines of Moria for a whole year, wondering how to write his way out. Such admissions remind me (once I have checked back with myself AGAIN) that the time it takes to finish a piece of work, is the time it takes to finish it. Not everyone can write a book a year. And now I think of it, I’m sure I read  that the marvellous short story writer, Alice Munro, takes eighteen months to write a single story. And when you read her, you know why. She distils whole novels into her short form.

For now, I’m recycling my ‘back catalogue’ of published short stories, creating new editions as Kindle e-books. I have just kindled Losing Kui, a novella originally published by Cicada Magazine in the U.S. a few years ago. On one level it is a tragi-comedic view of everyday life in a fictitious East African country during the late ‘90s. On another, you might call it an allegory, but I leave it to readers to decide what I mean by that.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? I am truly not a fan of categories, although I know marketing persons insist on them. What matters to me as a reader and writer is a well-crafted story, whether it is a 300-word picture book, Hilary Mantel’s Booker winning Wolf Hall or a Lee Child thriller. Most of my published work comprises short stories/novellas that are accessible to both adults and teens, and so I suppose you could call them crossover literature. Books for young people are anyway not so hide-bound, and may combine several so-called genres: real-life and historical narrative inter-threading with fantasy/magic realism. I find myself increasingly attracted to this combination.

3) Why do I write what I do? I had always meant to be a writer, but it was only when I went to live in Africa during the 1990s that I found a REASON to become one. In Kenya I was confronted with big landscapes and big human issues in which my own country had long played a questionable part. Suddenly I had a viewpoint and a focus and a territory. I was incensed too, by the wholesale imposition of western ‘values’ that left young Africans thinking it uncivilised that their forebears lived in mud and thatch homes. That’s one of the things that spurred me to write contemporary fiction for African young people. See (Latest books).

Some 14 years after returning to the UK, I’m still teasing out stories begun in Africa. I keep meaning to head for other lands, and one of my Ransom quick-reads for teens, Stone Robbers, is set in Guatemala. I suppose I am driven by the desire to tell stories about people who do not have a voice in the wider world, or who live in ways that are fast disappearing. In the margins between tradition and consumer modernity there are the kinds of drama and conflict that every story needs to make it work.

4) How does my writing process work? My people always arrive first. Even if I can’t clearly visualise them, I have a strong sense of them and their particular dilemma. After nearly 20 years of writing I have amassed quite a crowd, all waiting for their stories to happen/move on/finish. To discover what their stories may be, I always do a lot of research – too much probably. But without fail, the ‘what happens’ always emerges from this reading. In that sense, I do not make things up. How the works come together thereafter depends on finding some sort of imperative. This could be a writing competition deadline, or a publisher’s call for a certain kind of work. As Tiny says in her post, you do need deadlines. And perhaps, to come full circle, a lot of writer’s OCDD is also down to not knowing who will want to read/publish the work once it is done. While it remains unfinished, both failure and success are forever postponed. Keeping to your chosen path is hard to do, and I’ve written more on this HERE. But now please meet Celestine Nudana from Ghana, West Africa. clip_image002 She will be heading out on the next leg of  the #mywritingprocess tour (26 May).  She has been blogging at Reading Pleasure since 2012: http://readinpleasure.wordpress.com/  and believe me it is always a pleasure to visit her there. 

Celestine is Senior Assistant Registrar at the University of Professional Studies, Accra, Ghana. She is married and has three boys. She attended the University of Ghana, Legon, where she read English and Theatre Arts, majoring in play writing. She also has a Masters in International Affairs. As well as being a passionate reader and book reviewer, she has also developed a special talent for writing haiku, although she says she is still at the learning stage. Even so, her work has been included in two recent anthologies: Western Haiku: A Collection, and Ballads, bothproduced by Dagda Publishing UK, an  independent publisher who aims to show-case the freshest poetry and literature by new writers from around the world. The works are available as e-books. She has also had her flash fiction published in1 Photo 50 Authors 100 Words edited by Madison Woods.

She says of herself, “I am a romantic at heart, and love a good romance story, though I shy away from erotica. Almost all my poems focus on love, or aspects of it.” Celestine has written romantic fiction for serialization in several Ghanaian newspapers, and deployed her play writing skills to produce radio serial dramas that deal with topics including child health and female sexual reproductive health. So here is a woman who writes on many fronts. I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say about her writing life.


Now here is my second writer introduction. She was a bit held up, so this is a last minute addition. I’ll let her speak for herself:


Hello! My name is Vashti Quiroz-Vega. I’m a writer of Suspense, Fantasy and Horror. I also enjoy mixing in some Humour and Romance into my stories. From the time I was a young kid, writing has been my passion. I’ve always been a writer; I just didn’t know it until  much later. For me, it is easier to express my thoughts on paper than with the spoken word. I enjoy making people feel an array of emotions with my writing. I like my audience to laugh one moment, cry the next and clench their jaws after that. My love of animals and nature are often incorporated in my stories. You’ll read intriguing things about various animals, nature and natural disasters commingled with my character-driven novels. I love to read almost as much as I love to write. Some of my favourite authors are Stephen King, M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, J. R. R. Tolkein, J. K. Rowling and Dan Brown.

Vashti's Web Photo (361x640)




This fiction writer’s path: five things learned along the way

Writing tips: Knowing your place

Errant muse? There’s still life at the allotment


49 thoughts on “Taking the slow road ~ tarrying not typing(#mywritingprocess)

  1. Uh Oh, seems I not only suffer from OCD, but OCDD as well!! I am not a writer, but my blogging these days requires frequent scrubbing sprees before I come up with anything concrete!! 🙂 Look forward to ‘meeting’ all those characters in your head someday. Good luck Tish.

    1. Of course, Madhu, doing ‘something else’/displacement activity can be also useful too. Automatic jobs like ironing and washing up somehow let your inner chatter settle a bit, and it’s often these times when ideas clarify, or you have a really bright one. It all comes down to balance, as with just about everything.

  2. My word, it is interesting to hear just how a writers brain works. So many characters vying for your attention Tish, and I struggle with words for my posts…

      1. Yes, I have to keep the lid on them. I’m a bit like a bad mother – the old woman who lived in the shoe – don’t which one needs attention first 🙂

  3. I reckon writers must have the cleanest houses then 😉 All that procrastination! Doesn’t work in this house, the OH just picks up a guitar.

  4. Writing is easy. ( the editing and proofing are what grates). The motivation to continue, unsure if there will be anything worthwhile at the end other than the personal satisfaction of knowing you have written ( in my case) a book/s is where the wheels fall off.
    And even then, will it be successful, will it be marketed correctly etc etc.

    1. So many unknowns, Ark. I don’t find writing that easy. I need a good, following wind. It’s also too easy to become really tired without knowing it. Maybe the more tired I get the more procrastination I go in for. I just have too many pieces of paper!

  5. Tish, I am so impressed with this much awaited post; a fabulous one in every sense of the word. Congratulations! 🙂

    You touched on many issues in writing but what struck home is a writer’s OCDD being down to not knowing who will want to read/publish the work once it is done. That my dear friend is greatest fear, and a deep sense of not matching up to other writers.

    That’s a beautiful bio you gave me up there! 🙂 Thank you ever so much! 🙂

  6. What a great article Tish! Very interesting and it has so much good advice to us “novice” writers. I’m so happy you agreed to participate!

  7. You two are fabulous, I must say. 🙂 You make the blogosphere a wonderful place to be part of. As for the endless cleaning and tidying and sorting bug… 🙂

  8. Oh my goodness, I had no idea that there was actually a term for my condition. I’m supposed to be clearing out cupboards and sorting through a mass of linen and clothes in preparation for our big move, but I can’t seem to settle to it. I’ll do anything but what I know I should be doing. I think it’s called “putting off the evil moment.” 🙂 “Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow just as well.” (Not sure if this was Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin.)

  9. Hi Tish,
    This was a great interview, with lots of interesting information. I had to laugh at your introduction, probably because it rang a bell for me. I have spent far too much time in Beanstalk Land. Never resorted to scrubbing the grout between the tiles, but I’ve reorganized a pantry or a closet rather than have to sort through the next scene in a manuscript.

  10. I take the proverbial ‘hat’ off for writers like you Tish. I can’t write to save my life and it always amazes me at the imagination it takes for writers to come up with the stories they do write and it sure is a lot of work. I’d rather go and clean the house with an OCDD attitude before I will attempt writing a story or novel. 😀 Great and informative post. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  11. Bees knees? Well, that would come from all the gardening. A very fine article. Myself, I’ve been real busy with the gardening.

    1. Thank you, Bumba. Gardening is soothing, isn’t it – apart from the bees knees of course. Also now seem to have a dodgy hip, but I think that might be due to too much blogging!

  12. Oh wow — I can’t believe I’m just now running across this amazing blog. I loved this:

    “Suddenly I had a viewpoint and a focus and a territory. I was incensed too, by the wholesale imposition of western ‘values’ that left young Africans thinking it uncivilised that their forebears lived in mud and thatch homes. …

    I suppose I am driven by the desire to tell stories about people who do not have a voice in the wider world, or who live in ways that are fast disappearing.”

    My daughter has always wanted to go to Africa. Someday, she will, hopefully when it’s safer. The greedy infiltration from the West and the plague of Abrahamic religions really mucked things up in Africa, the cradle of our species.

  13. I am also avoiding writing at the moment. I am perhaps two chapters away from a historical novel I’ve plinking away off and on for the last five plus years and only sit an hour or two at a time working on it. I can relate to the wandering to other tasks…

  14. Reblogged this on How my heart speaks and commented:
    This is a most interesting post which will also link you to some writers that Tish knows and their writing as well.I a;ways love knowing how other people do things whether it’s writing or painting or cooking or just being alive and conscious

  15. Such a relatable post! I love the compulsion to do anything and everything when we’re supposed to be writing. Great questions, too; it really makes one reflect about their writing, goals, and their purpose.

  16. I very firmly believe that no matter what we do in life, writing, photography, art, music whatever, we become so entranced with what we like to do it becomes a job and we think too long and hard to find the ideas in our minds, that we become blocked creatively. For that reason like you I go to the garden, while we entertain our minds in the silence of the garden, watching, seeing and learning about the things of nature, our minds never loose sight of what our true gifts are. It is busy pushing through all the thoughts you were struggling with and getting them organized, so while you are giving yourself the well needed breather in other places and projects, when you go back to writing, poof as if by magic the thoughts, ideas and concepts just roll right out of your mind. We all Need a Break from what we love to do, then we see the entire picture more clearly.

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