Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Cosy Spot to Write

Writing isn't easy--the only people who think writing is easy haven't actually sat down with a blank piece of paper and a pen. I have friends who say they're going to write a novel--they have the perfect story to tell. I smile and encourage them, knowing it will never happen. At the very least, writing takes discipline, time and energy.

It's taken me years to figure out that there is a right time and a place to write and forcing myself to write during other times or in other places won't work.

I need a cosy spot to write, which happens to be my office. It's a small room on the second floor of our house, painted Wedgwood blue. Some of my favourite things are kept there, among them, a large print of Monet's water lilies, an antique French rug that I carried home from the Antique Market in Toronto twenty-five years ago on the subway, stuffed animals I've collected over the years and a marble urn containing my father's ashes. I like to think he's helping me now as he did when he was alive. Of course there are white book shelves and a comfortable leather chair that creaks.

The best time for me to write is in the afternoon at my desk under a window overlooking the backyard. I love the sound of birds singing in the trees, but will only get off my chair to look at blue jays and cardinals. I'll write for a few hours, make supper, walk the dog and settle down in the guest room beside the office. With the TV on, I'll plot out the next scene of my novel on paper with a pen or pencil. The next morning, first thing, I'll sit down at the desk and review the chapter I wrote the day before. Everything seems to fall into place early in the morning. I don't even require my reading glasses.

I get more work done when I stick with this format. I like to write a fairly decent first draft. I'd rather have 2-4 pages that require minimal revisions, than 8-10 pages slapped down in an undecipherable mess that will take me another whole day to repair. The next time you find yourself writing something that flows effortlessly, make a note of the time and place. It might just be the best time and place for you to write.

As for blogging, I prefer Sunday afternoons, while the dog and hubby nap in the living room. I'll tiptoe upstairs with a glass of wine and a plate of grapes and cheese and type my feelings and thoughts to people who understand the art of writing.




  1. I wish I could work that way, especially the planning and plotting and minimal revisions.

    I don't have a set time or place. I roughdraft in both longhand and keyboard, and both are great for me. I'm a fast typist so I can keep up with my the flow of my thoughts, but writing longhand (I've learned to print so I can read it again later) slows me down so I can get the feel the words more clearly.

    I have a wonderful study that I sometimes write in, but I always appreciate a good train ride, so I'm one of the few who can honestly say "I love my commute." However, if I'm in a writing frame of mind, I can write almost anywhere.

    I work both additively and subtractively. I tend not to know what's going to happen until it does, though I begin with a vague path leading to a vague goal that becomes more focused as I go. I'm learning to trust the creative process, which involved a lot of trust and the willingness to let-go. I honestly don't know where the ideas come, and sometimes I'm shocked by how good they are and how perfectly they satisfy a given conundrum when I need it.

    Aldous Huxley, in his Paris Review, sums up my method perfectly:


    Do you block out chapters or plan the overall structure when you start out on a novel?


    No, I work away a chapter at a time, finding my way as I go. I know very dimly when I start what’s going to happen. I just have a very general idea, and then the thing develops as I write. Sometimes—it’s happened to me more than once—I will write a great deal, then find it just doesn’t work, and have to throw the whole thing away. I like to have a chapter finished before I begin on the next one. But I’m never entirely certain what’s going to happen in the next chapter until I’ve worked it out. Things come to me in driblets, and when the driblets come I have to work hard to make them into something coherent.

    The only ritual I have is to tell myself that I can't go to bed until I have written my minimal quota for the day, which is either 500 words or 15 minutes (I type 500 words in 15 minutes.) I've finally learned to keep my creative voices separate from my editing voices, so I no longer wallow in self-defeating self-abnegation at the pile of crap that initially pours out, which is a huge breakthrough for me. I've come to see it as creating an ever larger pile of vital raw material from which to fashion my product.

    For the first time in my life, I feel like I'm finally on my way to fulfilling my lifetime goal of writing a novel. It's very exciting.


  2. Oh my, I thought I had given it a proof-read before posting it. My apologies -- I rarely release something that sloppy. But you get the gist...


  3. Wonderful post, Cynthia.

    I myself have a bare minimum quota of 500 words per day. The beauty is that I usually meet that on my daily 10 minute commute, so if I can't find time to write that evening I don't kick myself (too hard).

    I've made it a habit to freewrite in that 10 minutes, either uncontrolled or on a specific subject. I've done it enough times that it's a trigger and I can keep my hand moving the whole time.