Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Writing rituals - my manky coffee mug

If the photo above appears to have fallen over on its side, that's indicative of how little effort I make to understand the software on any new computer I buy. I've nearly mastered the art of pushing in or pulling out gadgets from my USB port, enabling me to upload photos to this blog. Alas, I lack any mastery whatsoever of iPhoto, which is why the picture is probably lying on its side. If, by some miracle, it's the right way up, ignore this paragraph.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, my manky coffe mug. Among the many stupid writing rituals I've developed over the years, the week-long coffee mug is my latest and daftest. Essentially, I try to write solely to office hours and only on weekdays. Reality doesn't always work like that, but it's the ideal I hope to achieve. When you work from home as a freelancer, it's all too easy to let assignments and commissions bleed outwards into other hours of the day. Hopefully, if editors and producers are being kind, you may have more work than you can handle.

[Why take on more work than you can handle? We're freelancers! We never know why the world will wise up and identify us for the charlatans we truly are. This in-built insecurity persuades us to grab every piece of work going. But this attitude has its benefits. If I was a sane person, I'd have said I was too busy before Christmas when a BBC Radio producer asked how busy I was. Instead I said I'd make time and from that got my first commission to write a radio play. You want to build a career as a writer? Just say yes. Worry about when you'll find the time to do the work later. The corollary to that is professionals never miss a deadline if they can possibly help it. Editors and producers love a creative genius, but they also need people who can deliver good work on time to specification. Fit for purpose, as comics scribe Andy Diggle liked to say when I worked with him at 2000 AD, oh so many moons ago. And yes, in case you're wondering, this section will conclude with a closing bracket soon. Any sentence now. In fact, right... about... now.]

So, if you are madly busy, there's always the temptation to put into your study/office/bedroom/studio and go a little bit more. Me, I try and keep that impulse under control. Do a good day's work and, whenever possible, give yourself the night off. Every creative individual needs some time away from what they do for a living [and for the love of it, hopefull], otherwise burn out beckons. Like a big, beckoning thing. But enough cod Blackadder dialogue. Where was I? Oh yes, my manky mug.

As part of my ritual, I like to start each writing week with a clean coffee mug. For the rest of the week I drink exclusively from this mug during office hours, not washing or cleaning it - unless there's been some catastrophic biscuit crumblage due to a lack of attention during dunking. I love to dunk, but all too often crumbs escape the biscuit and form a somewhat disgusting sediment on the bottom and sides of my mug. After five days and lord knows how many cups of coffee, this ain't good. Back enough my mug has more rings inside it than a giant redwood by Friday afternoon, without adding an encrustation of Krispie biscuits too. [Krispie bsicuits - marvellous New Zealand delicacy, involved baked coconut and 13 points round the edge.]

As for the mug itself, I choose from four I've accumulated for the purpose. Each was specially customised to make plays I've been involved with at the local am-dram ensemble, the Biggar Theatre Workshop. Pictured above is one of my mugs from Proof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Auburn we staged in October 2004. I'm also fond of my Knights in Plastic Armour mug, a souvenir from the Robert Shearman play I directed in 2002. Shearman has since achieved a kind of Doctor Who immortality by writing last year's episode called Dalek, but he deserves to be remembered as much for his amazing stage plays and radio dramas. I can't wait to see or hear what Rob does next, he's a stunningly talented bloke. The git.

Anyway, that's my manky coffee mug ritual. When writing is going well, I keep myself to four mugs of coffee a day, or less. When a book is proving something harder to find amist the jumble of my mind [Note to self: must find Bill Conti's soundtrack album for The Thomas Crown Affair], the coffee intake increases dramatically.

Speaking of which, time for a fresh brew in a manky mug, then back to the final thrash on Fiends 3.


Rob Spalding said...

I used to do that with coffee mugs, but since finishing Uni and moving back home myMum keeps taking them away and cleaning them.
Parents! Have they no respect for the artistic soul?

Still, nice to know I'm not the only slovenly writer around ;)

David Bishop said...

We are legion! Fortunately, I have control of the dishwasher in our house, so no such problems arise... with the exception of food poisoning.