Writers’ Biscuits: an ongoing research project *mumbles, mouth full*

 

I have been conducting a long-term, and entirely selfless, piece of research. On Writers’ Biscuits.1

Which of all the small, sweet and carby snacks available are best suited to the writing life? To give that tiny lift and bit of a helping hand when energy and inspiration fail at mid-morning, mid-afternoon, or midnight. (Though probably if it’s failing at midnight writers are turning to other options e.g. alcohol or sleep.)

Writers are fuelled by coffee2 – sometimes tea – and snacks. If your thoughts run like this: ‘I’ll write 100/200/500 more words/I’ll finish writing this chapter/I’ll finish re-reading/editing/staring hopelessly at  this chapter, and then I’ll make a cup of (beverage of choice)…’ then the bit where, while the kettle boils, you forage through the cupboards for something to eat is vitally important. It decides What Happens Next, in every sense.

In this scenario I’m discounting discoveries of nuts, crisps, dried fruits, or a fridge-based forage which might end up with hummus or yoghurt, or, God help us, salad in its many forms. Salad does not get a novel written. I’m British. I’m talking about Biscuits.

Early results pointed to the Hobnob as an ideal biscuit-of-choice for the writing life. Sweet, salt, and two of ‘em’ll keep you going for ages. Dip-able: this is a very important quality. Biscuits that dip and then disintegrate into your tea or coffee as you lift them out are a disaster. Especially if you’re busy looking at your computer screen while doing so. Outcome: bits in the beverage and nothing to nibble on but a soggy edge.

The success of the Hobnob led to experiments with the Chocolate Hobnob. Initially it looked like a winner. But you can have too much of a good thing, leading to crash-and-burn (not saying how many were got through in a sitting). Consistent results show that intake of the Chocolate Hobnob definitely leads to a drop in productivity.

A family member who shall remain nameless, though with the best scientific interests at heart, thought that if Chocky Hobnobs were good then Chocolate Chip Hobnobs must be even better. But there are some things that are not meant to be.3 Choc Chip Hobnobs are an aberration. The packet was not even finished. By me, anyway.

digestive biscuit, writers' biscuits

So now I would like to announce a very strange interim result. The plain Digestive biscuit is making an unexpected bid for supremacy. Bought simply for smashing up and making into a tray of Rocky Road, it was accidentally foraged one morning with interesting results. Who would have thought that such an old-school biscuit would stand a chance? Yet it has the necessary characteristics. Not too many crumbs, capable of being dipped without disaster (though timing is all), and – surprisingly – equally flavoursome with/in both tea and coffee. And being such a no-frills sort of biscuit, it gives the illusion that you’re snacking on nothing more sinister than a ricecake.4  So you can probably get away with another. (Two or three).

This important work continues. Research assistants are required. Unpaid. Any volunteers?

 

1 N.B. There is a parallel but completely unrelated research project into Writers’ Chocolate. *wipes mouth*

2  See my blogpost ‘Coffee – Essential Writing Fuel’ on Girls Heart Books.

3  Other examples of things that should never have been invented: there’s an advertisement around at the moment for something that combines chocolate and Ritz Crackers. No. And another that implies you can put strawberries on Ryvita. That is impossible. Those two substances are like resisting poles in magnets: the strawberries simply veer away.

4  Actually, ricecakes are pretty sinister.

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10 Writers’ Displacement Activities

We ought to be writing. We want to be writing. But when we get the chance, what are we doing instead?

1.  Housework

If there are household chores that need doing, we’ll do anything else, which is only logical because housework is boring, tiring, and soon enough it’ll need doing all over again.

But when we’ve got some writing time, suddenly there’s an urgent desire – no, a compulsion – to clear away the breakfast things first. And it would only be sensible to put a load of dirty clothes in the washing machine so that they can be doing in the meantime. And, oh, there’s gunk that’s really crying out to be teased from of the plughole in the shower. We don’t exactly turn into domestic gods and goddesses, just furious tidiers and fixers, laden with clean laundry, dirty cups, and distracted good intentions, on our way to whatever space we write in.

2.  Caffeine top-ups

No one writes without a cup of coffee in them first, right?

And now it’s probably time for another.

Might as well make a pot.

Maybe tea would make a nice change now.

Just have to wash up the favourite cup.

And nip to the loo, again, what with all the fluids…

3.  The working lunch

This isn’t a time-saving meeting of colleagues over ordered-in sushi to thrash out ideas or go over the last month’s figures. It’s the planning and assemblage of something you can eat with one hand while typing with the other. Hazardous.

4.  Going for a walk

Julia Cameron – she of The Artist’s Way and Walking In This World – reckons this is a good way to unblock creativity, and she’s certainly not alone. Going for a vigorous walk in the fresh air does help us rethink, solve problems, and just sets the brain going. At the very least it gets us off our backsides. But a walk to the corner shop for more snacks, all the while contemplating what snacks to get, is not the same as striding for miles over the windswept fells and thinking about daffodils.

5.  Sharpening pencils

There is absolutely no reason for sharpening all our pencils to a perfect needle point in this day and age, unless it is to use them for poking tiny bits of cheese or biscuit crumbs out of the crevices of the keyboard. See (3) above. In which case, it’s a valid use of time.

6.  Social media

It’s kind of work. If we’re not out there, our publishers tell us we ought to be. It will help our public profile. So we keep checking if it’s helping our profile. And then we see other writers with much better profiles. Or who are just much better at social media. Or much better writers. So, feeling a bit low, we succumb to any of the other displacement activities, especially food-based ones.

7.  Actually quite tedious and repetitive on-screen games

We don’t play the really involving ones because that would be, well, really involving. Just the dull ones. As a bit of a break from all that vital creativity.

Research shows that repetitive self harm sets up receptors in the brain just like drug addiction, so that nothing else quite fits the bill. Hard to think that could apply to Spider Solitaire, but there you go. Click. Click.

8.  Snack time

Well, we only had a sandwich for lunch and half of that fell on the floor due to eating one-handed while crouched over a keyboard. So a little boost is probably necessary about now. A little sugar rush. Just to liven things up.

9.  Research

Oh, God, and now there’s Pinterest as well…

10.  Daytime TV

In conversation at a party once it became to clear to me that all the people who ‘worked’ from home were familiar with Diagnosis Murder, while all the people with go-out-to-work jobs just looked blank. They had no absolutely no idea that in his latter years, instead of retiring to his lovely beachfront property and spending his days fishing, veteran actor Dick Van Dyke retrained as a medic, solved a whole load of crimes, and kept his extended family in gainful employ. He wasn’t a time-waster.

Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis Murder