I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled How to Write a Great Novel. The article interviews a range of authors on their writing habits and it makes for instructive and inspiring reading. I thought Nicholson Baker’s habit of getting up at 4am to write in a trancelike state for a couple of hours was completely intriguing. I found unexpected common ground with Kazuo Ishiguro in that both of us spent our early twenties trying to forge a musical career rather than a literary one. I’m also quite surprised by the fact that many of the authors interviewed still write a first draft in longhand. I rarely write by hand anymore, in fact I think my signature is the only thing I write by hand with any regularity. Of course I started thinking about what my contribution to an article like this would be.
I am unemployed at the moment and except for the lack of money my life couldn’t be more perfect for a writer. I think unemployment must be truly awful for most people, but I don’t consider myself unemployed as I have a book to finish and so I work on that every day.
I am not by nature an early riser but I have forced myself to get into the habit of getting up by ten (which is late for a lot of people I know!). I have breakfast and a pot of coffee, shower, answer emails, blog and get dressed, mostly to a soundtrack of jazz. By twelve I aim to be in front of my laptop in the kitchen, as it is the brightest room in the house. I start by revising and editing the previous day’s work and then I’m on a roll. My daily goal is 1,000 words. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard going and some days it flows as if I’m taking dictation.
I always finish knowing where I will pick up the following day and try to solve any problems before setting aside the work. I consider a first draft the raw material I have to work with and it is mostly concerned with the broader picture – plot, characters, pacing. The second draft is where I will polish the prose. Right now I am working on a novel which is told through three different characters and I am writing each of the stories separately. I know my biggest task in the second draft, as well as refining and editing the prose, will be to weave these stories together so they make sense within the plot as a whole.
The best thing about being a writer is being your own boss – if I don’t reach my goals I have no-one to blame but myself. The worst thing about being a writer is the flip side of that coin – every obstacle overcome, every problem encountered, every great day’s work is marked only by yourself and it can get lonely at times. However I dream of the day when someone will actually pay me to do this for a living. Hopefully it’s not too far away.