On Headspace and Emotional Intelligence

Flower, Pen, Writing, Once Upon a TimeThere are a lot of things that make a good writer. Good writing is a good start. But there are a lot of things that people take for granted when it comes to writing – things that become all the more important when you’re writing science fiction and/or fantasy.

The first is headspace. Most writers need a good time to sit down and just write. NaNoWriMo (*waves to NaNo-heads*) is just one of the things you can use to help you get in that writing zone. But real life has a lovely habit of intruding. After all, most of us aren’t full time writers, and so have jobs to attend to, families to care for and friends to interact with. We can’t be hermits – it’s just not nature’s way.

And, if you’re like me, there are all sorts of other things to attract your attention – TV shows, books, cons… I won’t bother to make a list because I’m sure you get the idea. So where does headspace come in?

I have a strict routine. I get up at 5.30am and get some words on the page for an hour. Then I read* over breakfast. I tend to read over lunch. When I get home I give myself a bit of mindless TV time before dinner, and then after dinner it’s back to the keyboard. At weekends I do pretty much nothing but write. I have to – my head doesn’t allow for anything else, especially if I have a big project on the go.

I devour books and TV shows like nobody’s business. I get fixated – Sunday morning Supernatural marathons or re-reading the Scott Lynch books before the next one comes out. Which doesn’t give me a lot of writing headspace. Friends and family get abandoned, I’m distracted at work sometimes and have to scribble down an idea.

You need to work out your own way of creating headspace – find that niche of time and thought to really write. If you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, you’ve got a whole lot of world building to do to make it accessible to the reader, so you’re going to need a good place to go to really concentrate. Don’t feel like you’re being selfish – everyone will understand if you just say.

Once you’ve found your space – that part of your brain where you store information and ideas, that hour after cleaning the house when it’s just you and the page – protect it. This is what is going to help you create the next bestseller.

The next one is emotional intelligence. This is key to writing good characters – if you know what makes real people tick, then you can figure out what makes your characters tick. Those friends and family you’ve been abandoning to do your world building are going to have to feature here. Be sociable – go for a coffee on your lunch break, have a family dinner and just talk. Everything you do is material for your characters.

Emotional intelligence features a lot all over the place nowadays – I’ve heard it brought up in work meetings. This is that perfect blend of empathy, sympathy and self-awareness. I once wrote a character biography of myself; if I was a fictional character, what would make me tick? Then I had a friend do the same, and we compared notes. It turns out their view of me and my view of me are pretty similar in most cases – hooray! – but then there were some surprises. It’s those surprises that you need to look for, to understand, and to feed in to your creative process. They’re the ones that make your characters 3D.

Both headspace and emotional intelligence have featured a lot lately for me. My new project, House of Blog, has eaten up all the writing headspace I have, and left no room for NaNoWriMo or any other kind of writing I was hoping to do. The story I was working on has trickled away, and friends are starting to wonder if I’m alive. Without my headspace, I’m an automaton – running from work to blogging to sleep and back again. It means my emotional intelligence is at an ebb as well. I’ve lost track of what my friends and family are doing – or feeling – and that makes me feel cut off from the world.

So do I stop the blog for a bit? Take a hiatus from the internet merry-go-round and grab a bottle of wine a couple of best friends?

Well no. Because my emotional intelligence tells me something about me, too – that I can’t give up writing. Blogging is as essential to me as writing my new fantasy novel, as the latest book I’m reading, or the next episode of Dr Who. But my headspace has started to blur – the space for writing and the space for friends and the space for work have begun to blend in to one, making all of them a chore.

It’s about time I make more headspace.

As SuperFolk, we all put ourselves through the wringer – we all have so much going on that we spread ourselves too thin (“like butter spread over too much bread”), and we can suffer from it. We have to regroup, re-evaluate and re-establish. We have to protect our headspace, we have to nourish our emotional intelligence, and we have to realise our ability.

Which means, at the end of this post, I am asking you two questions:

How do you find headspace? And, how are you really?

And as an extra bonus point for you NaNo-heads: *waves pom poms* YOU’RE DOING BRILLIANTLY!

*I’m currently reading The Teleportation Accident as part of #HoBBookclub