Updated: Mar 9
WRITING MY FIFTH NOVEL
Last week, an aspiring writer I’ve just started mentoring asked about my writing routine and, specifically, where I write. The answer is: anywhere, as long as there is space and light.
I’ve written in bed, on my couch, at my writing table, standing in my kitchen. In parks and botanical gardens. On trains, planes and the underground. Rocking in a hammock, lying on the sand, sailing on a boat. I’ve written in restaurants, pubs, bars and cafés, surrounded by multiple conversations, with music in the background and, more often than not, people staring me.
I’ve had people asking me what I was doing (‘frying an egg,’ I was tempted to reply), wanting to know if I was a food critic (no, thanks, I'd rather just eat) or staring at me for quite some time. None of it has ever prevented me from writing when I had set my mind to it.
I've started my fifth novel in various places across Cambridge, London and Ely, places where I feel comfortable, where I can enjoy the sun, a nice view, unobtrusive music, good mochas and also good food, if I’m feeling hungry. I’ve done most of my questioning process detailed in my previous post in the Botanical Garden café, enjoying a walk before or after my writing session.
The bulk of my new novel writing will be done on my laptop for obvious practical reasons. I cannot begin, and do not want, to imagine what it would be like to write without cut and paste, Ctrl + search/replace and automatic back-ups. That said, writing in a public space is an opportunity for me to leave my laptop and usual surroundings behind and let my brain write more freely, and more quickly, with pen and paper. That's why I alternate between the two, especially when doing intensive editing, a subject I will come back to in a later post.
There isn’t an ideal location for writing, there’s only your ideal location. For Stephen King, it’s sitting at his table, facing a wall, with curtains drawn (which does explain a lot of his stories). For others, like me, it’s a place full of life.
To figure out that ideal space, you need to allow for trial and error and listen to your instinct. If you fear distractions, it’s best to start by writing at home, until you you’re able to venture outside without losing your concentration entirely. And if you’ve just started writing, it’s best to stick to a place that feels familiar and with as little distraction as possible.
But more than the location itself, it’s the frame of mind you bring to your writing which matters the most. Put it simply, if you want to write, you will write. You will sit on a hard park bench, zoom in on your text, focus on your ideas and carry on with your exploration, regardless of the army of children chasing one another, the angry dog barking at passers-by, the queue in front of the van selling ice creams in the shape of a pink foot or the threat of a shower. And if you prefer writing indoors, as is the case right now, you will not mind the rickety table you're leaning on (and will quickly learn how to wedge it with one of your draft pages), the smell of fried bacon, the crying baby, the questioning looks and odd Spotify playlist selected by the café owner.
Motivation is what makes you sit at your computer when your energy is low, leave your house despite the foul weather, block out conversations you wouldn't mind eavesdropping on and start a new sentence when you're not sure where your story is going.
Writing is exploring and that exploration can take place anywhere. While your immediate surroundings might be particularly conducive to storytelling, at the end of the day, the creative process is internal.