Friday, 13 April 2012

Can we learn anything from the writing preferences of the great novelists?

As I was writing the last blog post, perched on my bed with my laptop on my knees and papers scattered around me, I wondered if I’d be more productive writing at a spot actually dedicated to writing … like a beautiful antique desk with minimal clutter, a collection of artistic photos framed on the wall in front of me, and ambient lighting pooling over my laptop.

Were my thoughts more or less disorganized because I share my writing space with my sleeping space, the clothes on the end of my bed that I’ve not yet had a chance to fold and the television talking at me in the background?  I have a perfectly good study area that is quite large, but to be honest I do my more technically boring work there so it tends to be utilitarian, and to be frank, the chair I have is not comfortable and makes my rear end ache after a while.

I have been known to craft a line or two at the dining room table, on the train, on the couch in front of the television (although that is more to appease the family so that I can say that I’ve hung out with them for a while). I’ve even been known to take a few moments at my desk at work, when an idea just grabs me and I HAVE to get it out.  Basically, I write wherever and whenever I can find a spare moment.

To satisfy my rampant curiosity, and to have something concrete to write about, we did a twitter poll.  The question we posed to writers was: Where do you write?  The answers eerily mirrored my own—on a laptop in bed, at the dining room table, or on a couch with the television on—so maybe writing well is less to do with where you write than I thought … or made excuses for. 

So it got me thinking—where did (or do for that matter) the great novelists of our time write?

What I found is that most successful writers are shockingly similar to me and any fledgling writer.  PD James and Stephen King both get up early and write, usually at the desks in their studies—nothing earth shattering there. 

But there are also notable exceptions to the norm: Ernest Hemingway and Vladimir Nabokov both wrote standing up, Nabokov going one step further and writing only on index cards that he could mix and match later. Robert Frost apparently wrote on his shoe while riding the train, D.H. Lawrence wrote while sitting under a tree, and Ben Franklin wrote in the bathtub.  Mark Twain and Truman Capote wrote lying down on a couch or in bed. J.K. Rowling famously wrote on the back of napkins in a coffee shop, and Marcel Proust wrote from midnight to dawn in a cork-lined bedroom. 

Stephen King

P.D. James


Mark Twain

So, apparently the location in which we write has no bearing on what we produce—the great writers are no different to us “newbies” in that respect.  What has struck me though as I’ve been doing this research, is that a common thread has been creeping through as I read interviews with authors about their writing habits.  Although the location of where writers write may vary, one thing did not.  Each and every successful writer set aside an amount of time each day to write something.  Be it an hour every morning before the household awoke, or to reach a goal of a pre-determined number of words or pages. 

The key it seems to me is to be consistently writing something.  And then editing … lots and lots of editing.

Bottom Drawer Publications 
12 April, 2012

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