When is not writing actually writing? When it’s a raven.

(I’ve been trying to solve that riddle since I was five. It worms its way out at odd moments.)

Over the last few months, while I haven’t been here that much obviously, I’ve been over at my other site, PracticeWriting, rolling along in regular practice. I was also taking a short story course online, and wrestling with the novel idea that took hold of me. Around about November time I’d successfully carved out enough of a routine for myself so that when it collapsed in December (sewing nativity costumes, present wrapping, major dentistry) I missed it.

A lot.

When writers are not writing, they’re a little bit weird. Weirder than they are normally. They get snappy and irritable, and are prone to moaning about the inadequacy of their jobs, clothing, lunchtime sandwich, choice of life partner, none of which is really at fault.

It’s the damned uncomfortable urge to write. That’s what’s doing it.

It’s like a magnifying glass held over your brain, burning a small, non-destructive but painful hole in your everyday life. Every day spent not writing, the hole gets a little deeper, and the writer gets a little more unpleasant to be around.

Doesn't this look satisfying?

Doesn’t this look satisfying?

The only way to move the glass, to scratch that itch, is to write, but without a project, or even a regular routine of practice, it’s sometimes hard to justify the time, and the effort it takes. Why sit at your desk uselessly staring at a screen or notepad, when you could be pairing socks, whitening the grout in the bathroom, or rubbing beeswax into the banister*?

But the words don’t write themselves and you have to write sometime, so you might as well just shove the pile of socks in the drawer and deal with that little ordeal every morning. It is better than having the itch.

So January came along, and I really haven’t done much writing. But I haven’t had the itch either.

I’ve discovered research.

My project is historical, and so I knew there would be some research involved, but I had naively confined this in my mind to the scientific things at the centre of the novel. I read about them. I made some timelines. I sketched some bones of a plot. I wrote twenty thousand words.

And then I found myself googling wigs.

And what I found out about wigs at this specific time in history made me laugh out loud with joy. I could see how it fitted in with my characters, and served me, the writer. I made a note of it. Then I thought of something else I’d quite like to know, and so the day went on.

This is how January has been. A little research, a little note making, a little planning, a little shaping. I’ve never written in this way before, and I find I like it. I’m creating a net for myself, and hopefully it will support me a bit better than “the seat of my pants”, which is what I was using before. You know, for those days when it feels like the entire project is DOOMED.

It feels as if it might be a back and forth process. Research a little. Write some more. Identify holes in research. Research a little more… I’ll let you know how it goes. I’ve got a shiny new pass for the British Library and I’m not afraid to use it. Daunted, maybe, but not afraid.

*In the bizarre world of writers’ logic, these will become legitimate procrastination techniques once a project is underway and being a bit difficult**

**In searching for a suitable image I was completely distracted by a tutorial on making your own beeswax polish. I can do this! I have beeswax in my cupboard! No. Best not ask.