Feeding the Beast with Nigel Da Silva

Nigel ‘LJ’ Da Silva, is a freelance scribbler for fun and profit. He grew up in Mooloolabah, Australia where eccentric pursuits like reading and writing were viewed with deep suspicion. As a Captain in the Australian army, he worked in Military Intelligence and would write a book about his experiences (if he thought anyone would believe them). He continues writing commercially as he lacks the skills or talents to get what many would consider a ‘real job’. 

Sated for a while, the beast lies, not asleep … for it never sleeps. Quiescent perhaps?

But not for long … it will soon awaken, its gaping maw hungering for more, always it wants more. Words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs … even entire chapters.

Back in the day, writers were stalked by an ancient terror, the typewriter. Yet it was ponderous and slow, digesting single sheets of cellulose ripped from the living tissue of trees.

But it evolved into something swifter and all but insatiable, this time consuming pixels and the writer’s very life force at a formidable pace. It became the computer.

Feeding the beast can be all consuming, so writing needs to become a habit.

When you’re trying to pen your first great novel or short story during those rare, in-between moments of your busy life, you need to develop a consistent writing habit.

I was once fortunate enough to meet one of my all time favourite authors, Terry Pratchett. Ever the gentleman, he took the time to talk to me about writing, but then he said something really annoying.

“I find writing really easy,” said Sir Terry. “I wrote my first novel, sent it to an agent and then it was published. Then I sat down and wrote my next book and the one after that.”

But for we mere mortals, writing can sometimes be an uphill battle. Those words that flowed like the effects of a bad dose of ‘Deli Belly’ suddenly become cramped in mental constipation.

Or, worse, you can’t be bothered to write. It seems too much effort. You’ll do some writing tomorrow maybe, or after the weekend.

Sometimes I pretend I have ‘writers block’ because it sounds much cooler than admitting I’m lazy and I’m finding writing really hard work.

Re-programme your brain

So can’t you just make writing an essential daily habit the same as any other in your life, like eating, showering, or exercising?

Yes, you can.

You can reprogram your brain just like a computer and install new habits.

Habits lurk in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia (I may have made that up), and they consist of three parts: a trigger; a routine; and a reward.

The trigger is the event that initiates the habit, like the alarm waking you up at the same time each morning, or finishing dinner.

The routine is the ‘core’ of the habit and describes what you do when you wake up: like make a cup of coffee or check your emails (that manuscript acceptance is bound to arrive today).

And the reward is the “what you get out of it” part. I find finishing a chapter deeply rewarding.

But how do you do that when there are so many competing priorities, so many distractions that are constantly vying for your attention and keeping you away from your writing space?

First make a list of your biggest distractions.

Do you like to binge watch TV series on Netflix? Is social media eating up your time? Is there a cat presently sitting on your keyboard? (Why do they do that?)

I find that enjoying a pint at my local under the highly suspect motive of ‘gathering some local colour’ a common distraction.

How to break bad habits and install good ones.

Write for ten minutes when you wake up.

Set your alarm fifteen minutes earlier than normal then write for ten minutes. Repeat this every day and, if you like the process, increase the time you write. Other times of day are acceptable too, as long as you stick with it.

You’re sitting at your desk. The beast gazing balefully at you with it’s single accusing eye. You’re trying to find the motivation to write for an hour or two.

So don’t write for an hour.

Write just twenty words instead.

If you can write twenty words, you can write fifty. If you write fifty, you can write a hundred. If you write … well, you get the idea.

If you tell yourself you’ll be at your desk in an hour, you’re briefing your subconscious to start preparing material.

Writing badly can be good (goodly?)

If writers block is staring you in the face, then describe its shape, colour and texture. I think writers block is when my imaginary friends are sulking and won’t talk to me.

So write something anyway.

Sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better; not writing leads to nothing at all.

I call writing badly ‘working out a framework’ or ‘alternative literature’; it’s a little lie I tell myself so I can feel good about my bad writing.

Remember, a professional writer is just an amateur writer who didn’t give up.