When I worked full-time in-house, I was very mindful of how I used my spare time for writing. I developed a system when I would write before work each morning, and then walk to the office, which took at least fifty minutes (in other jobs, living elsewhere, longer). I could close down thoughts about my book and open up thoughts about the titles I’d be working on that day. Some evenings, I was able to conduct the same process in reverse.
I don’t have a lot more time for writing now, but the space in which I write is different. It might be part of a morning or an afternoon. Sometimes, it’s a deliciously large window of three or four hours. It’s made me realise how much I used to spend peering at the space – perhaps to make sure it didn’t vanish before I’d got my word count down – rather than into it, to see what I could and needed to achieve.
It’s a bit like fetishizing stationery, I suppose (which I keep coming back to, I know). Or choosing the right café (not too noisy, the cleanest, where the best Americano is served …) or pub (adequate lighting, the right brand of crisps, not-too-sticky tables) or getting a specific corner of your flat perfectly decked out before we put pen to paper (scatter cushions, view onto the garden, Anglepoise lamp …)
We distract ourselves in so many ways, because writing is hard work. And the words on the page are never as convincing as the fragments that run through our minds during the moments in which we cannot stop what we’re doing to write them down.
The quality of space is my big discovery and its key aspect, at the moment, is sound. What does my writing sound like?
I’ve talked before about how, in Ready to Love, the characters’ movements are like a disco. Don’t ask me what music was playing because I never know the names of songs. I’d be hopeless on Desert Islands Discs. I don’t do playlists. (I like the sound of that app which tells you a song’s title and performer if you play just a snatch.) In all seriousness, a lot of people in that book were being polite and reserved and coy because, I think, that’s what a lot of us are like a lot of the time. That’s what the book is about.
In my new book, the gloves are off. I can hear a lot of people shouting at each other. And bickering and sniping. And sometimes, even, swearing. There are two sides to my story – two sets of characters – and there’s so much conflict brewing that I’m going to have to have buckets of cold water at the ready when the two sides meet.
It’s exciting. It’s exactly what I want and need this book to have. What I need my writing to have.
When I read I dialogue aloud (as I always do) I’m reading into a more complete silence than I’m used to – I guess I’m not as good as some people at completely switching off from my surroundings – and it’s enabling me to adjust the volume up or down. I feel as if I have more control, which permits subtlety as well as amplification.
When we write, we juggle so many different balls at once. I suspect we always drop one or two of them in favour of others. (Well, as an editor I know we do – it’s an editor’s job to help the circulation of a story as it moves from beginning to middle to end.) We’re told to ‘kill our darlings’ – the parts we love but don’t add value to the work, but what about the opposite of darlings? How do we tend to them?
Are you aware of aspects of your work that always seem to get neglected? Have you changed any of your working methods – through choice or other circumstances – and has this had an effect on the way your work, or the writing you produce? What qualities will you be looking out for in your next piece of work?