Whenever I meet another writer I always want to ask about their writing process. While these questions can seem trivial I think they communicate something important about writing – so much of what happens before the book gets published is mysterious – both hidden from the reader (who might only see the finished product and never meet the person who made it) and perhaps, sometimes, even mysterious to the writer herself. Who can really say where their ideas come from?
So in this first blogged letter (a concept that is a little mysterious in itself – I am writing a letter to you, Nermin, knowing that lots of other people are going to be reading it along the way, and that it will be translated from my language into yours before it even reaches you) I will tell you a little about my usual writing process and ask you about yours.
I suppose the method that we have to communicate with each other has affected, already, the sort of thing I want to talk to you about. I am choosing both something we have in common and something that I think the other people reading our letters might be interested in ‘eavesdropping’ on!
I almost always prefer to write at night, and on my computer. This is for convenience more than anything else – the days are busy: filled with work and students and the demands of my children. I’d like a quieter life (wouldn’t everyone!) but there is always lots of talking – phone calls and lecturing, singing nursery rhymes and reading bedtime stories and answering the door. The night feels like the only time I can be guaranteed some peace and uninterrupted time. The computer is essential too – not because I don’t like to write with a pen, or because my handwriting is bad – but because I can type very quickly and delete very quickly too – it never feels like I’m wasting time or space. The darkness makes it all feel like a dream sometimes.
I don’t get, I think, as much time as I would like to write. Is it like that for you, too? I do a lot of thinking as I drive up the motorway up and down the M6 from Preston where I live, to Lancaster, where I work. It’s often raining and the windscreen wipers are going like the clappers and planning out the next bit of writing I am going to do stops me from falling asleep!
That pressure on my time, and all the thinking I get to do during the commute almost always means that when I next get to my computer, I have built up a head of steam and I’m ready to start typing right away. There’s a nice kind of urgency about it. I work for as long as I can – I’ve stayed up all night before – but mainly two or three hours passes very quickly before I run out of steam. Now I come to think of it my car has always been quite important in my process – years ago I worked in a prison and used to escape at lunch time and sit in my car and write, longhand, the first drafts of my second novel.
I used to write very quickly, and do lots of drafts. My first novel was written in around seven drafts – that was a lot of typing and a lot of late nights. I am not sure why the process is changing – perhaps I am getting more experienced and more able to predict what kind of techniques and subject matter will work well, and which won’t, before having to try it first. But certainly I do less drafts now, and write more slowly. I hope that the writing has improved during this time, but then, that’s not for me to say.
Could you tell me a little bit about your writing process? Are there any parts of it that seem mysterious to you or that surprise you? How do you fit writing in with your other commitments? Has it changed much over the past few years?
I will finish this now and hope this letter finds you well. Best wishes and see you soon!