Sunday, September 23, 2007

Writing Days

Today I've been working on my book. Gigi, in one of her comments, asked me to describe how I manage to fit writing into my days as I have a full-time job and two boys.

For example, today, I've done no housework to speak of, and gave the boys fresh ravioli for lunch (very quick!). I left them to their own devices pretty much, which suits them just fine, throwing them off the computer for a while to play outside, but basically letting them make their own amusement.

As a result, I've managed to work on my book for part of this morning and much of this afternoon. The house is a tad messy though, but should I keep an immaculate home and not write? Nah!

During the week, the boys are in bed or at least in their rooms at about 9pm. We eat together and I clear up, then I ignore the tele and go upstairs to work for a couple of hours on my book. At 11pm I come down to watch something silly on my Sky digibox for an hour (in English).

However, I am in 'book' mode at the moment. I was able to spend swathes of time on it in August, unhampered as I was either by boys or a time-consuming partner. I could come home from work, have a cuppa and get on with it. This meant I was able to re-enter the world of my characters and what they were getting up to, and maintain a double existence inside and outside my head.

Had I not had the freedom to do this in August, I would not have been able to conjure up the story world in the evenings. As it is, I'm thinking about my book all the time even when I'm not working on it; waking up early refining it in my head (and then forgetting...) and being quite obsessive really. I need to be though, or it won't get done.

I remember when I was writing it at the beginning how compulsive it was - it was all I wanted to do, and the boys had to get used to mummy being on the computer the whole time for about three months. I had had the dream, and the story was invading my head so much that I had to write it down to get rid of it. That's how the book got to be written in the first place. I started it, and didn't stop until I had an ending. It evolved out of the characters. Then it had to be refined, which has taken years, but the basic story was there.

I have another 150 pages or so to modify, out of nearly 400, so I'm not far off. Luckily no one moans when the house is a mess, the boys are happiest hanging out at home and outside and I don't have a man about who needs attention. Lovely as they are, if I have a man, I don't work on my book, hence my resolution to stay away from men until I finish.

So Gigi, I empathise with your inability to get down to writing your own book. I've been there! You'll need to go away by yourself on a retreat or something, take only your laptop and just do it! Once you're inside your story world, you'll find the momentum to carry on when you get home, hopefully.

I'm sure your ados won't mind if you ignore them for a few weeks...


  1. Well done, Sarah, on your commitment.

    It takes time to write even a few sentences, and a few hundred pages is certainly a different proposition entirely.

    I read recently about an American author who wrote solely on the train, during his 20-minute commute to and from work. It could never have happened on SouthWest Trains, that's for sure.

    Then there's the story of the hugely successful writer and vet, James Herriot. He used to scribble manuscripts long-hand in a loose-leafed notebook, during an hour or so after dinner at home.

    Most remarkably, though, Herriot claimed that he always wrote with the TV turned on and the whole family all around him.

    Whatever works to find the time, I guess. And the patience. Lots and lots of patience ...

  2. The first draft of my book actually fairly flew off the keyboard, but the improving modifications have taken longer as they have required more thought.

    I can't imagine writing anything on my old commute on the Fenchurch St line from Upminster. Standing all the way sandwiched between smelly armpits and uncleaned suits.

    When do you write, Roads?

  3. Upminster ? I lived there, too - but only up to the age of 4, and I rarely commuted then.

    Interesting what you say about the difference between a fast first draft and a slow slog later on. Re-drafting is much slower, and can seem very mechanical.

    I have occasionally gone back to check my first draft and see how many words are preserved in place at the end. The answer is surprisingly few, although typically the opening and closing sentences seem to survive more or less intact.

    Whilst sharp editing usually produces a significantly shorter text, I find that the dull nature of the exercise brings with it the real risk of ripping the emotional guts out of any piece of writing.

    It's possible (and disturbingly commonplace) to spend an hour on a paragraph and end up with a much less effective text.

    When do I write ? Typically in short bursts of half an hour snatched at the end of the day.

    Only rarely do I spend solid days -and when that happens it is always unplanned.

    Typically when drafting gets way out of hand - times when I thought that an hour or so should wrap it all up, which translated into twenty times that long over a couple of weeks. You know the score !

    Now how does that sketch go ? Ah, yes:

    Dudley Moore: I'm writing a book.
    Peter Cook: Really? Neither am I.

  4. I am so disorganised, I spend the day stumbling from one chaotic moment to another and still never get anything done! I have written 16 chapters of a children's book - in fact, I've written the whole thing inside my head. I'll probably have died of old age before I get it all down on paper. I'm very impressed, Sarah. You're obviously not a lazy bugger like me...

    Can't understand how Herriot wrote with the telly on...

    Roads, is there any place on planet Earth that you haven't visted/lived in??? Is there any road not taken? :-)

    You must have so many wonderful memories!

  5. Actually I am a lazy bugger, because until I had the August advantage, I had been procrastinating like mad not doing it. I wrote the original text in 2003. It's taken me 4 years to get it to the point when it's practically finished, and for most of those months, I was doing bugger all on it. Which is why I must take advantage of this opportunity to finish. The end is nigh...!

  6. Gigi - actually not that many wonderful memories of Upminster, I regret to say.

    And I hate to admit it publicly, but I've never been to Leeds. Or Hull. Or Sheffield. Not that I've got anything against Yorkshire (yikes, although somehow I've missed out York, so far, too).

    It's just that the county seems to have (ahem) temporarily fallen off my map.

    Anyway, back to writing. You'll enjoy this photo-spread from The Guardian all about writer's rooms.

    Now to tidy that desk ...

  7. Sorry - that link didn't work.

    Here it is again.

  8. I did enjoy those writers' rooms. How encouraging that they are all messy, lived-in and alive with the work that goes on in them.

    I work on the computer in my bedroom. It sits on a computer-sized work station which is covered with things that don't belong to me. At the side is the computer, underneath is the Livebox, printer and USB hub. Next to that are two bookcases from Ikea heaving under the weight of too many books, a film camera, photo of my youngest and internet phone which I never use.

    My desk at work is no better, but everything on it is related to me and my work, at least! There's no method in the mess, but I do tend to know where things are...

  9. Well, er, thanks for that link Roads...not. Because I was so busy scrutinizing those writers' rooms this morning, I was ten minutes late for work.

    Anyway, at least I know now why I'm not a famous's because I haven't got a proper writer's room. Yep - that must be it...


Comments are bienvenue.