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Together in Solitude

Writing alone is tough. There are a million ways you can talk yourself out of it. In fact, you can spend hours planning ways to evade the page, so that by the time you’ve finished composing your list of diversion activities, time’s up: you’ve got to go back to life. And you feel that strange mix of relief and guilt that you’ve tricked the muse into hiding. Again.

So, if you’re a writer who really wants to write, who wants to find a way to kick your waining motivation into action, you need strategies. Maya Angelou said, ‘put your feet in a bucket of vanilla ice-cream if it keeps you writing.’ Zadie Smith uses apps that cut off her internet. Others write on trains. My strategies? A few staples: lattes, biscottis, writing in coffee shops. But there’s one strategy that helps me more than any other: having a writing buddy.

And by having a writing buddy, I don’t mean sitting together and talking about writing (in fact, it’s better if you don’t); and I don’t mean sharing your writing or doing writing exercises (there’s a time and a place for that, but it’s not here). I just mean sitting. At the same table. Ideally, in front of each other. In silence. And scribbling. And it’s in this solitary togetherness that the magic sets in: a synergy as real as it is intangible.

I’ve seen it time and again. The stillness that hovers over the bowed heads of my writing students at Wellington. A spell that makes the words fly from imagination to page.  It’s the craziest thing but it turns out the muse likes company. A quiet, concentrated, writing-together company.

Over the years, I’ve written with some awesome people – in some awesome places. In the cafes of supermarkets and petrol stations with Liz Martinez. At my kitchen table and in garden centres and coffee shops with Helen Dahlke and Lady Joanna Seldon. In Costa Crowthorne with eleven year old Emily Pittick, Emma Potter (barrista and fantasy writer who comes and sits with me in her breaks) and Charlie Penny (one of my lovely old writing students). See Emma and Charlie in the photo below.

So, here’s my writing tip of the day. If you’re finding motivation hard, find someone to write with. And then sit at a table, open your notepad or your computer, and begin. The muse will show up, I promise.