Does it matter where you write? Do you have a special place where the words flow more freely, or can you scribble away in front of the television? Can you write amongst chaos, or do you need privacy and absolute silence? Is music forbidden, or do you like the comfort of the radio twittering away to itself in a distant room?
Is the spare bedroom your private hideaway, or does the kitchen table suffice? Does the literary muse stubbornly refuse to descend until you’re huddled in the cupboard under the stairs, or sitting in bed with your laptop and a cup of tea?
What about a view? Some writers find scenery distracting and prefer to face a blank wall to prevent daydreaming; others need the inspiration of a constantly moving tableau, even if it’s only the neighbour’s cat prowling around underneath the bird table or the mist shifting over distant hills. A water feature, perhaps? The gentle, rhythmic tinkling of water over rocks is quite conducive to concentration, but wind chimes – aargh – the work of the devil.
If you’ve got a large family it’s often difficult to find a quiet space, never mind the time, to write, and we teach ourselves to grab a few minutes whenever we can and tune out the noise. You know you’ve succeeded when you don’t even hear the doorbell or the telephone. When you’re in the zone, solitude is important. In these circumstances, I think Sartre got it right: hell is other people. It seems that writing is not always taken seriously and friends think nothing of popping in to pass the time of day, because, well, you’re only writing, aren’t you? It’s not important.
I always used to sit in the conservatory, Mont Blanc pen in hand, writing away. Not because I’m insufferably posh – the pen was a present – but because I couldn’t write directly onto a computer screen. Somewhere between brain and keyboard my thoughts got scrambled, so I preferred to write longhand. This served another useful purpose: when I eventually committed my deathless prose to the screen, I used the transcribing process as my first edit. And it helped me marshall my thoughts for the next chapter; by the time I finished the copying, I was well into the story and able to carry on typing.
These days, I sit at my computer, surrounded by my reference books, and tap away straight onto the screen, ad nauseum. I have to admit that this is partly because my handwriting is almost illegible these days (not that my rapid hunt-and-peck style of typing would win any medals), but now that I’ve got used to it, I like the convenience of the computer, particularly how easily I can move things around when a new idea occurs. I can cut and paste whole tracts of stuff that don’t quite work in this story but might come in handy for another story. I don’t murder my darlings so much these days; I just move them to a more appropriate place.
And I love the online thesaurus – brilliant!