Speed & Endurance

How your DNA can change the way you write

I’m something of an armchair genealogist. In the digital age it’s now possible to access many records about our ancestors from the comfort of our own homes, and with the advent of Genetic Genealogy we can even find out our DNA by spitting in a tube and popping a parcel in the post.

One of the things which I have discovered as a result of my research is that I am built for speed and not endurance. This isn’t really news to me. I ran the 100 metres in school in 12.85 seconds. I also practically threw up during long distance running on frosty winter days as my chest tightened and my legs turned to jelly.

But how does this apply to my writing? Am I condemned to the realms of poetry or short-story writing? Should I just stick to blogging? That would be fine if my passion lay in poetry and short-stories, or I was content to do nothing but blog, but there are countless stories inside of me, itching to get out, that would fit perfectly into the length of a novel.

The answer, as I have discovered, is to move multiple counters forwards in short, sharp bursts, rather than sit and do one thing for a prolonged length of time. Today, for example, I’m writing two blog posts of approximately 600 words each, as well as 600 words of two novels I’m working on, and 600 more on an autobiographical work. That’s a total of 3k words in a day, which is hugely productive. I know I can achieve this relatively easily because I’ve broken it down into bite-sized chunks. Had I told myself that I would write a solid 3k words at the beginning of the day, the likelihood is my brain would have melted down in apoplexy and it would have felt like people were sticking a multitude of long, sharp needles in my head.

I also try to change it up throughout the day to keep my brain stimulated. For example, I might spend the first block of time writing a blog, then do some research, then listen to some music or watch a podcast, then write some of one of my novels. I will vary what I work on throughout the day so my brain never gets bored. The other key thing for me is to get plenty of fresh air an exercise, especially during the long, dark, winters, and, importantly, to cuddle with my cat, Henry.

Of course none of us are the same. I suspect that our writing styles are as unique as our DNA. The important thing is to find what works best for you. If you are a marathon runner at heart then you can probably sit down for longer periods, but may not write as fast. If you are a sprinter, you might want to try to write less words at a time or even set a stop watch to write in bursts. It’s all the same in the end, but unlocking the key to your own writing DNA is what will bring you the greatest success in the end.

Are you build for writing speed or endurance? What are the secrets to your writing success? I’d love to hear from you. Do drop me a line. Liv.

The Joys of Journaling

Journaling

I kept a diary every day of my teens and well into my early twenties. I still have them, except for a six month period I tore out and burned over a boy. As I’ve been reading them a number of things have crossed my mind:

  1. They are nearly all about boys
  2. My emotions were all over the place
  3. They do mature as I get older – the voice changes
  4. They don’t have much detail in them about what life was like at the time
  5. They should never ever be published

This got me thinking about journaling today. Journaling can be good for everyone, but there is more than one approach. Here are some different journaling styles to consider.

The Emotional Journey

My teenage diaries fall firmly into this category. The journals chart the emotional development of the writer. They are of little to no historic interest and are extremely personal. Emotional journaling is cathartic. If you are dealing with complex emotions in your life I’d recommend giving this a go.

The Social History

My friend Leila Cassel had an aunt who kept wartime diaries. They are a brilliant and  insightful social history. Whilst they include personal stories about Mrs Jones next door, these tales are woven together with anecdotes about rationing, the Blitz, and life in North London in the 40s. They also contain something of a mystery. These diaries have inspired her to write a novel, The Girl in the Hat Shop, which is coming out in autumn 2016.

A social history journal is a gift to someone in the future. Who knows, an entry written today might provide the spark for a best-selling novel of tomorrow!

The Physical Journey

I have CFS/M.E. Unless you’ve had M.E. or know someone who has, it’s quite a difficult illness to understand. One way to explain to people would be to journal a physical experience of it. Others have done so with cancer, dementia, depression etc. All have been powerful and evocative testimonies that have gone a long way in spreading knowledge and understanding.

Aide-Memoire

Again, a more personal style, but with less emphasis on the emotional journey, and more on what you did that day. This is a fantastic journal if you are prone to forget things and want to be able to refer back. It’s also a great keepsake. When I’ve written diaries like this they are stuffed full of theatre tickets, shopping receipts, notecards from people, pressed flowers. These little trinkets act as memory-joggers and I have a fantastic time reminiscing as I turn the pages. I even squirted my favourite perfume, Venezia by Laura Biagiotti, on one page. I can still make out the scent today if I give it a good sniff!

The Writer’s Journal

Snippets of conversations overheard at the bus stop, descriptions of people, places and things. A writer’s journal is full of nuggets. They are literary collection boxes to be emptied and counted later. They are scribbled down on the fly rather than reflected on at length at the end of the day. What writer doesn’t carry a note book around with them?

The Blended Journal

The majority of diaries contain all of the above to varying degrees. There’s nothing wrong with a blended journal. There may be times in your life – particularly when you are grieving – when writing out your feelings can be healthy and helpful. If something significant happens in history – like the lunar landing, discovery of DNA, or the invention of the smartphone, then it adds spice to your journal to write about it. If you have broken your leg it would be odd not to mention it. Write those funny conversations down! Save those ticket stubs of films you really enjoyed. I’ve still got mine from the original Bridget Jones!

Above all have fun. I have bought myself some beautiful journals over the years and some great coloured pens. My only tip is don’t write in yellow. It fades into obscurity on white paper over time. Otherwise be bold. Who knows, your journals may help you let go of painful emotions, provide inspiration for a future novel, help others understand a misunderstood illness, aid you in remembering the good times, or all of the above. Let’s get started. What will you write today?