Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Mind your Ps...and Qs
Will you have your five portions of fruit and veg today (or your eight if you live in the USA)? And your protein? Your carbs? Your essential fats? Will you be taking some exercise? Will you be going out into daylight for at least thirty minutes?
It's quite a project, eating a balanced diet, living a balanced life. And it's vital for our well-being. Far too easy to spend the day with the seat of our pants welded to the seat of a chair, grabbing at junk to keep us going and only venturing out at dusk to buy new print cartridges and another bottle of wine. Or wasting another day in procrastination, then getting down to some decent writing at midnight and being unable to tear oneself away from the screen until the early hours, when it's so light you might just as well stay up...
Writers need a balanced diet. Writers need exercise. Writers need light. And in addition, writers need a particular and little-known vitamin:
The P Vitamin can be broken down into three complete enzymes. Each must be taken regularly in order to maintain good writerly health. So, with apologies to Patrick Holford, here they are:
Vitamin P1: Pleasure
Yes, fun. Anticipation. Stimulation. Inspiration. Flow. Play. Pootling about. This is the vitamin we often begin with, as writers: the sheer, unadulterated joy of putting down words. We are truly amateurs, writing for the love of it. Because writing gives us fulfilment. Because writing sends endorphins rushing round our systems. Because writing fills us with hope and possibility and excitement. As time goes on, we can easily forget to take this particular vitamin. But we ignore Vitamin P1 at our peril. Lacking it, writing becomes a head-down, serious chore. The lines on our forehead deepen. The light in our eyes fades. Our laughing-muscle atrophies. We are heading for Writer's Droop.
Vitamin P1 comes in many forms. Simply injecting some variety into our writing may do the trick - trying new forms, like the Six Word Novel, a haiku, a limerick. Taking our writing outside, to a cafe, a clifftop, a park. Playing word games, going on a course and meeting like-minded people. Vitamin P1 is all about nourishment and inspiration: providing yourself with a beautiful new notebook, a new pen; having scented flowers in your study; finding a mentor. And rewarding yourself for your writing, in whatever form most appeals to you: that novel you've been longing to read, a phone call with a supportive friend.
Vitamin P2: Practice
Just doing it. Writers are like children: we need both freedom and boundaries, permission and discipline. Vitamin P2 is about self-discipline. It's about showing up each day. Commitment. Constancy. Continuity. Practice gives us parameters. And, as we practise, we gradually grow that vital writerly ingredient of persistence. Deficiency in Vitamin P2 leads to a loss of foundation, of self-respect, of connectedness, of strength. Writerly muscles weaken. It's more and more of an effort to drag ourselves into the study. We becoming embedded in Writer's Flab.
Vitamin P2 always involves exercise. An injection of Vitamin P2 propels us out of inertia and into movement. The hardest bit is making the decision to do it. It's surprising how easy it is, if one only begins. For maximum effectiveness, Vitamin P2 has to be taken regularly. Every day, if possible. They say it takes thirty days to establish a practice, so it's worth setting yourself a target of a month to create this new, healthy routine. The benefits will be magical. Your writing - and your self-confidence - will begin to strengthen and grow. Vitamin P2 helps us to believe in ourselves and our work. It's much easier to call yourself a writer when you're actually writing. Oh, and Vitamin P2 can also, as a side-effect, create more Vitamin P1. Practice may not necessarily make perfect (who wants perfection, anyway?) but it often takes one into The Zone, that place where writing becomes pure flow and pleasure.
Vitamin P3: Performance
I can see you wrinkling up your nose at this one. Performing - particularly for the British - is seen as infra dig. Too-big-for-your-boots. Showing off. Well, that's giving this Vitamin a bad name. I'm not suggesting you go out into the streets in a multi-coloured wig to declaim your novel (though do, please, if that's your thing). Performing is about making your work visible. Sending it out there. Offering it to the world. It's about spending some time in the light, in the sun. A lack of Vitamin P3 results in a sense of invisibility, anonymity. We slouch around with hunched, hopeless shoulders, transmitting don't-look-at-me-I'm-not-worth-it vibes. We become a shadow of our former selves. We have succumbed to Writer's Drab.
Unless you leave the house, no-one will ever see you or respond to you. The same goes for your work. It longs to be received, to be acknowledged, to be celebrated. Vitamin P3 includes offering your work for critique and response to trusted readers; sending it out to agents; reading it out in public; entering competitions; blogging; self-publishing. It involves saying: I am a writer and I believe in what I do. Here I am. Scary. But essential to our writerly well-being. If it feels too precious to call it performance, look on it as marketing. It's what professionals do. And the world needs your gift.
So do take regular stock of your Vitamin P levels. The balance between them is constantly in flux. Maybe right now you need a booster of Pleasure. Perhaps some extra Practice would tone up your writerly muscles. Or maybe you've been depriving yourself of Performance.
Mind your Ps, as the saying goes. And the Q - Quality - will take care of itself.