Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to switch into the writing world?
The ‘switch’ is the ability to step into a writing mindset by separating it from ordinary life.
I first began thinking about the concept of a switch when I was reading the early diaries of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. Plath wrote about how she ‘cannot live for life itself: but for the words which stay in the flux. My life, I feel, will not be lived until there are books and stories which relive it perpetually in time. I forget too easily how it was, and shrink to the horror of the here and now, with no past and no future.’
She wished to write her own life.
This sentiment echoes Virginia Woolf’s approach to her diary. From 1919, Woolf questioned: ‘what sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace any thing, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into mind.’
Both authors examined their interior lives in a remarkably poetic way. They narrated their lives as if they were constructing the world of a novel. It is easy to say that their interior world can be that richly painted because they are extraordinary writers. Yet it is important to note that they deliberately documented their intimate thoughts in highly stylised, novelistic ways.
My own experiences of early adulthood and ordinary life, in contrast, do not reflect the day-to-day life recorded by Plath and Woolf. Aside from the obvious differences in era and place, I have had full days of simply cleaning: dishes, clothes and myself. I have waited, impatiently, on the phone for hours at a time, listening on loop to tinny hold music in an attempt to sort out an electricity bill. These ordinary interludes that comprise the background of our lives are not usually elevated as the subjects of poeticially recounted diary entries.
My often bland experience felt like a poor imitation of how a writer should be living each day compared to Plath and Woolf. I then realised that the writerly perspective can be accessed through switching between the two states.
The world of the writer and the world recorded by the writer – whether fictiously conjured or narrated in private diaries – is a world in the process of being transformed.
The writerly plane is one where the lines of an idea, or poetry, enter your mind unbidden. They enter no matter how focused you are on the ‘real life’ task at hand. When I spent long days studying in the university library, I would start recording the lines of poems that wrestled through my studious focus. I realised, as it happened more frequently during those intense times, that they needed to be recorded so that I could return to them when I could pay them attention. I recorded them for when I had the time to step into a creative space, time to fictionalise the world as Plath and Woolf did.
Yet, the success of the switch lies within keeping the two planes separated. It would be unbearable to live in the writing plane entirely, fictionalising every thought, experience and emotion. This intense, intimate examination of lived experiences removes a writer from the joy of simply being in the ordinary world.
The times after the busy spells become a cultivated space where you can embrace the switch. You can enjoy stepping into a writerly world of your own creation. The focus on your created space will become more concentrated through noticing the difference between the worlds as they become separate mental spaces.
Instead of jamming writing into the end of a busy working day, when you’re mentally exhausted by ordinary life, you could try to fictionalise one thing – such as the sky, or the way the light falls, or the silence of a room – and that will be enough. This will sustain your own creativity, without trying to force writing that does not have the space to grow at that time.
Record the little moments for a time when you can focus on them and start accessing your ‘switch’.