Writing is weird. Everyone has their own way of going about it. When reading, I make copious notes in assorted black notebooks. I’m not bothered about brand or type of paper (although I prefer lined or squared to plain), hard or softback, black is the only requirement. I like them to each be a little different so I can put my hand on the current one without thinking. I write in black biro in these notebooks. The clear Bic ones, although I do have a pen with an ultra-violet light in it which is handy for looking for restoration on old things but I don’t use the pen itself because I’m always worried it will run out and it’s from America and where will I get a refill and….and anyway I fill up every bit of these notebooks them fill them full of Post-It Notes with often illegible references written on them. Handy.
However, it is surprising how often I can pull out one of these notebooks from five years ago and find just the thing I was looking for. But mainly they are just guides to sources, pointers to interesting stories and such-like. These notes are made in libraries, archives, or sitting at home surrounded by books. I work at a small Georgian dining table by a window looking out onto an alley by a wharf. There are sounds from the street to the north and the river from the south, plus the occasional helicopter somewhere overhead. If it is very quiet or early I can hear the District and Circle Line every couple of minutes or so. Being near the river we often have a mouse; a tiny little one has just streaked beneath the armchair as I write this. The dog watches from her bed, but does nothing. *makes a note to put all the dog biscuits into Tupperware*
When I write, it is on the computer – an ancient MacBook, sturdy and comforting. I don’t get ‘Writer’s Block’, which is a result of being used to writing largely to deadlines and producing factual reports. Sometimes I get irritated because I can’t find the right word to complete a sentence, but then leave it, carry on and come back to it later. I can write four thousand words a day without too much trouble, although this would leave me pretty ropey, and I wouldn’t be stopping to reference everything in an immaculate fashion. Sometimes, that’s for the best as it allows you to return and see if the inclusion of each source is necessary or just self-indulgent.
I don’t turn the interwebs off as I work, but I don’t look at them constantly. Daytime tellybox is the living end so I find no distraction there. My working hours tend to be from around 6am to when I give in to prepare the Inglis household evening rations. I don’t work constantly throughout that time, obviously, having things to do like shopping or dog-walking or calling plumbers and so on (I don’t just call random plumbers, there has to be a reason). Yep, long hours, but this history stuff is my thing, see? Find the thing and the days are so very short.
(I’ve just added this bit in as people have asked. And no, the mouse doesn’t have a name yet. It is too small and I hope it goes somewhere else to grow up.) There are strict rules about getting up and dressed, for me at least. Making tea and checking emails in jammies and a dressing gown is fine, working isn’t. I work to music almost all the time. My Spotify work playlist is here. I start it anywhere in the favourites at the top then let it run until it annoys me. I only listen to my own playlists when writing, but will try out someone else’s when editing.
Most writers struggle with editing. I factor in about 30% wastage – I know I’m going to ditch about a third from my first draft. There may be more added, but there’s a lot of cutting. Viewing this as positive rather than negative is helpful. Cut, copy and paste are my friends – most of my writing needs a machete followed by a good run over with a currycomb rather than a delicate polishing cloth. As Hemingway confided to Fitzgerald, most of what he wrote was ‘shit’. The trick was consigning that shit to the wastepaper basket. And the mouse has just streaked back into the kitchen. It is mocking me.
I do emailing and so forth as and when and I’m never not excited by the cheep of the incoming electronic message. I have been known to email things to myself, forget in the next five seconds and then still be excited by that noise. It is rare for me to speak on the telephone (other than about work) during the day. The telephone is a necessary device but often an unwelcome intrusion. If you get lonely, or aren’t willing to rely on a dog and the occasional mouse for company during the day, I would not recommend writing or researching full-time.
As far as I can see, hating what you write is par for the course, until you change it so that you don’t hate it. But getting it onto the screen and hating it seem to be the essential bits.
*I am indebted to the lovely @DaintyBallerina for reminding me of James Thurber’s timeless advice.
Follow Lucy on Twitter at: @lucyinglis