I thought I’d give you a glimpse of my typical writing day, here in my Sussex village. I always write at my computer, which sits on a chaotically untidy desk, in what was once a small spare bedroom. In this room is also a filing cabinet on which stands my printer, a dear little occasional table and a shabby old antique chair, upholstered in old-rose velvet. There are piles of paper, and books everywhere. The window looks out over my quiet village street, which is great, because I’m very nosy, and like to keep an eye on what the neighbours are doing. This room is peaceful, which I find absolutely essential to getting any writing done at all. I simply can’t work in noise. (I’m struggling at the moment because one neighbour has just acquired a very vocal rooster, and it’s driving me bonkers!)
I have a dog — a dear old Lakeland Terrier – who spends much of each day curled up like a cushion at my feet. He’s very calm and quiet, and a good companion for a writer — it’s also very good for me to have that reason to go out and walk every day, rain or shine. Despite being old and a bit stiff in the legs, my dear old boy does love his walks.
I’m a rather chaotic person, and actually find the notion of routine rather oppressive, so I don’t have a structured writing day, as such. I don’t work to specific hours, or to a set timetable, but I do write every day, in every moment in which there’s nothing else to do. (Quite often I write in moments when I ought to be doing other things, too.) I like to progress the work-in-hand in some way every day — that might mean tweaking a couple of sentences on an otherwise busy day, or giving the whole day to drafting out a new chapter and then working on it. Many writers, I know, make daily word-count demands on themselves, but I can never do that — I find that a significant part of the process of writing a novel is the time that needs to be given to letting ideas mulch down and ferment. So a productive day might be one in which I crack on and write three thousand words, or it might just as easily be one in which I write a hundred words and then stare out of the window for the rest of the afternoon, allowing the ideas I’ve just hatched to mature.
It seems to me that the whole process of writing a novel feels very much more one of discovery than of invention. With both my finished books, and now with the new one I’m in the process of writing, the initial idea has been like that — it has just dawned on me that this is what my book is going to be about. And then I know, and it’s as though I have always known and I can’t remember not knowing. It can take a long time for my ideas to ferment and develop — at times I feel rather like a compost heap.
At times it’s a funny, isolated way of life, being a writer, so it’s probably just as well that I still do a bit of teaching (I’m on the local supply lists, and cover for absent teachers in a variety of local schools, a few days a month). Being with the students (some of whom are troubled and difficult) is often challenging and usually pretty tiring, but their energy and attitude and ebullience are always a good antidote to the quiet isolation of the writing life.
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