Monday, 19 May 2008

Making space

On reading some crass (and self-contradictory) comments by a best selling author, I began thinking about the way in which writers of my acquaintance work. Said best selling author wittered on about making space for your work, taking it seriously, with another bs (yes, that was intentional) author chipping in about ‘respecting your work’.


When I become a bs author (may all the gods and goddesses forbid), I too will be able to afford someone to look after the kids and pets, someone to answer the phone and open the mail, someone to fix the leaky tap and help paint the shed. In the meantime, I will write alongside real life.

Of course, these same bs authors who were talking about putting their writing first actually went on to say you make time for your writing by getting up earlier, or re-arranging your day, or writing on the train. In other words, do what most writers do. Write along side real life.

This got me exercised (no difficult task), because it was being used to promote bs author’s book on how to write a best selling novel. Another one. One day, in the not too distant future, when you walk into a bookshop, it will be full of students on break from their writing degree, looking for the latest tranche of books on how to write. There won’t be any novels in there that aren’t written to some dull formula, produced by students of writing courses and guided into print by agents and publishers who, you guessed it, took the parallel degree in publishing.

This came floating into the ether at the same time as some drivel about the Booker of Bookers.

Double please.

The last thing we need is the insufferable self-congratulation and earnestness that goes with celebrating such pompous, mediocre books.


Making space.

To work.

We all do it differently.

Some need silence, a room of their own. Some can work at the kitchen table with the kids baking up a storm around them. Others go to the library, or a cafĂ©. I drafted my first published book in a small shelter in the Botanic Gardens in Durham (mornings in one of the University libraries, lunch and afternoons at the Botanic Gardens – all very civilized).

The real point is that we each have to find our ideal working conditions. And when I say ideal, I mean the ones that work best taking into account the fact we might have kids/pets/spouses/rent to pay/day jobs/noisy neighbours. Any writer who tells you to lock yourself in your study and pound out three thou a day is basically telling you to write like them. And you can’t. You have to write like you. It might take some time to find what that is, and there is no harm in trying other people’s methods, but they’re not gospel.

Writers are lucky in that all they need is a decent notebook and a pen or pencil. Anywhere you can perch the notebook on your knee, you can write. It might be for an hour in the bathroom with the door locked; it might be on the train; it may even be in the luxury of a study. But wherever it is, the most important space is the one you make in your head.

I find that if I am in the right frame of mind, I can write anywhere. I haven’t been able to put that to the test in recent years as I rarely get out of the house, and I do confess to preferring my study with all my books around me. But I have written in all sorts of places. On beaches, trains, buses, in lectures, in bathrooms and bedrooms, attics and cellars, gardens and libraries, theatres and drama studios, in lighting boxes, stone circles, on hilltops, in a castle…

If there is any point to this, it is that if you cannot shut yourself away or re-arrange your life to put your writing in the centre (much as you would love to), don’t despair. Don’t think you are not or cannot be a writer because you don’t have a study. Make the space in your head and keep your notebook with you at all times. Take advantage of whatever time comes your way. Writing is a pure magic and can be conjured in any circumstance. Be a magician.


Anne Brooke said...

I heartily agree! We're all different and we should be proud of the fact. I was seriously peed off last year when some idjit author at the Winchester conference really upset a wonderful writer friend of mine by saying he had to write every day and always have a structure. What piffle! It really upset him as he writes in order to discover his story and not every day (he has family, commitments etc etc) - and produces wonderful stuff too!

Needless to say, I said as much to him. Best to ignore those who upset your writing style - they obviously have other problems ...


Hugs to you!


Graeme K Talboys said...

Many thanks.

I sometimes wonder how some authors can be so insensitive when sensitivity is meant to be their stock in trade. I suspect it may have something to do with the fact that (in common with most politicians) they and the real world have ong since parted comapny.

Viki Lane said...

Hear, hear Grum! Inspiring stuff.


Graeme K Talboys said...

Thanks, Viki.