Friday, May 19, 2006

A Typical Day?

Anne McAllister has an post on her blog right now that talks about what she does when she’s not writing – or perhaps I should rephrase that -
What she does when she should be writing but isn’t - this is how she puts it -

Sometimes I wonder why whole days go by and I never seem to be a writer. I start
out the day with the best of intentions -- and go to bed with the same
intentions for tomorrow (and with the same words unwritten). What goes on during
those days?

Well, I’ve had one of those not being a writer sort of weeks. I’ve been busy – I seem to have been busy non-stop. I’ve even worked at my computer for hours and hours each day – of most of each day – and I haven’t managed to add significantly to the word count of what I call not the WIP (work in progress) but the WHIP (Work hardly in progress) . . .

Which is why, when I go back to the workshop I did this weekend I remember one particular question – one I couldn’t answer . . .

See there it is again – I spent days preparing that workshop, traveling to it, finding the venue (I seem to have spent hours traveling to it, trying to find a roundabout that the map said existed, that the AA instructions said existed – a roundabout that I never found, not once, in all the times I went back over the route again and again.) That’s time I spent last week and at the weekend doing writerly stuff but not actually writing. Not on paper/screen/keyboard anyway.

And the question I was asked at this workshop was ‘Can you tell us what is your typical writer’s day?

Honest answer? No.

I don’t have a typical day. I don’t write in an orderly, routine sort of way. I don’t plan to write Xthousand words today and tomorrow and the day after . . . until the book is finished. Sometimes I wish I did, because that must be a steady, regular way to work towards the end of a book. It must be a relief to watch those words mount up, see the Chapters get completed, head towards the finishing line. But I’m not a steady, regular sort of writer. I’m an all or nothing sort of writer – I think and plan and mull – letting the story brew inside my head – and then suddenly, one day, it’s ‘ripe’ and I sit down and I write and write and write – and then I can write thousands of words in a day. I can write all day every day. I get up early and go to bed late. I wake up thinking of the story and I go on with thinking of it all day – until it’s done.

I’m always sort of fearful that if I write 1000 words a day and then stop that the reader might read those 1000 words and then stop – putting down the book and not picking it up again. So I write in great lumps of words, words that I write and write until I just have to pause for breath.

And in between I do non-writing things. So this week, I’ve done the workshop, I’ve packed and traveled to and from it. I’ve unpacked and washed and sorted (why does there always seem to be so much more washing than the clothes you could possibly have worn in that time?) . I’ve caught up on all the emails that were waiting for me when I came back, I’ve completely overhauled my website (The realisation that it still had the Valentine’s Day Contest on it sort of gave me a hefty kick into doing that). I’ve caught up with friends, family, dealt with more requests for more workshops, spent some time with the BM, fed the cats, paid some bills . . . And now I’m updating this blog – and not before time.

And before I blinked I find I’m back at the day when I left this blog a week ago, saying I’d be back soon – and meaning it! But it just didn’t happen.

So that’s what happens on those non writing days. But the great thing is that while I’m doing all this other stuff there’s a wonderful subconscious part of my brain that is busy planning and mulling and scheming and I’m already feeling that itch that has to be scratched – the itch of words that have to be written in those great chunks and those long, long days. I suspect that those actual ‘writing days’ are what the lady who asked the question about the typical day meant when she asked it - but they’re not exactly typical. They’re only part of it. And just the same, the website updating, workshop planning and giving etc etc days aren’t typical either – they’re all just part of what I do.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t a ‘typical’ day in a writer’s life and that’s what makes us writers. We don’t fit well with routines and planning and discipline – we create. We invent worlds and the people who inhabit those worlds. Our minds are partly in this real world and partly in the fictional one we’ve invented for ourselves. We live our own lives and the lives of these characters who come and whisper to us when we’re trying to concentrate on other things.

Traveling and doing the workshop were times for my mind to let the seeds of the story start to develop. Updating the web site was a very different experience from creating a book - it needed organisation and logical thought and an eye for detail. That, and all the rest of it ‘cleared the decks’ so that I can plunge into my other world – the world where the hot Sicilian sun is beating down and a certain Vito Corsentino is heading for the airport and the plane that will take him to England and the house where the woman he’s been trying to forget is living – where she’s been trying to put her life back together after all that has happened since the last time they met . . .

Oh oh, I think I feel some typical writing days coming up . . .

And the updates on the web site will be up just as soon as wonderful Wendy gets them done.


Anne McAllister said...

I can totally identify with the "nothing" days, Kate. It's the "all" days that seem to be eluding me at the moment! But fortunately the galleys for Theo have gone and I have enough to write the article now, and then I hope I can get back to long-suffering Spence!

The elusive roundabout wasn't to Brigadoon, was it?

Anonymous said...

Knowing that 'proper' authors have days (sometimes many of them in a row) where they don't actually do much at all has made me feel a whole lot better about my 'non-writing days' (of which I've had far too many recently). Thanks you, Kate. I can now go to sleep feeling at peace with myself :-)

Michelle Styles said...

I think you have to distinguish between doing nothing and the creative process of writing. Putting words on the computer is only a very minor part. It is the ability to create, change and reorder.
That said, I do try to write 1000 words per day, because I don't get the luxury of having days where I can write thousands. And I must say that I have never thought -- oh people will stop here because I stopped writing here. Some of the page turning comes in the edits...

Kate Walker said...

Anne - I really think that some of those 'nothing' days are necessary to nurture the seeds of the book a little. And galleys are one of those trials sent to torment us for being authors! I'm so looking forward to Spence so I hope he gives you some 'all' days for a while

The rounadbout might have been on the way to Brigadoon - if I'd been able to find it! It just didn;t even rxist

Sharon - I don;t believe anyoe 'proper' author of not can write all day every day without fail and without doubt. I;ve learned to cast a very wary eye over any book that seems to write itself too easily. SOmetimes you need abit of those blood tears and sweat to make it sing.

Michelle - i admire you if you can work on the 1000 words a day principle - that way the words mount up steadily -I just can't do it!


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