Friday, 21 January 2011


In the past I've been careful about taking too much from how other writers work - even though I love reading about their routines and habits and desks and what time they get up and all of that.

I couldn't write for a month after reading Stephen King's On Writing - he made his way sound so simple, so alluring that I tried to emulate it and couldn't, and felt like a failure. That was years ago, and I'm sure there were other things going on rather than me just being halted by King.

But similarly, I was aghast last year when I read that Kate Mosse gets up at 4am to write. You get a lot of that - writers getting up really early to write - for a while I thought that was the only way to do it.

But there is only your own way - as long as you're doing it.

This week I've been influenced, in a good way, by Susan Hill. I've never read any of her work, but she's been interviewed in various magazines and newspapers lately and I think I may have fallen in love with her.

She's direct, confident, assured, and prolific. Totally grounded. Really refreshing.

From her Mslexia interview:
"Who says you have to start writing first thing in the morning? ... Who makes these rules? This sort of thing makes people anxious about their writing before they've even started."

And from The Observer:
It seems redundant to ask if she enjoys writing. "Oh, God, yes!" she exclaims. "I can't stand those writers who make a fuss. I mean, you don't have to do it. I just can't understand this 'it's all so difficult' business. Yes, I love it, and I can't be bothered with 'it's such agony'. That is so pretentious."

Yeah. I love her.

You can read the full Mslexia interview here
and the Observer one here.


Alex said...

I hated King's On Writing. I found no help whatsoever. I have tried various other techniques from Nabokov to Hemmingway and all that really works is, as you say, my way. I write when I have something to write.

I love those quotes. The only thing which irritates me in writing is when you know a brilliant word but you just can;t remember it. Argh. But aside from that I love every bit of writing.

I don't know what you're worrying about though T, your writing always reads so effortlessly. I love it.

Dan Purdue said...

I've heard Dan Brown gets up at some ungodly hour and hangs upside down for ages before sitting down at his writing desk.

You might want to leave that off your list of things to try. You know, just in case...

Elisabeth said...

You can only do what works for you. That takes time and practice to work out, but don't be blinded by other people's writing habits. They may well not work for you.

Teresa Stenson said...

Alex - 'I write when I have something to write' - good, yeah, I never think of it that way. That's when the best stuff comes, though. But I can't say that's always the case for me, maybe because I want to make writing my career, I feel I should be disciplined as well. Thanks for the lovely thing you said there.

Dan - tried it, had a nosebleed. Saved on ink, though.

Elisabeth - yes indeed, I agree. I feel less intimidated these days by the routines of other writers, but just as interested. I think it's easy to get caught up in comparing technique or routines or output, just because, for me, anyway - I'm always measuring what I do. And generally not feeling like it's enough.

Sofluid said...

I totally get this. I'm always feeling bad that I'm never able to get up early to write, or to write late at night either. I tend to work best in the evenings, but sometimes I don't get round to it because of needing/wanting to do other things. There's always such a feeling of guilt whenever you're not writing... But I am starting to realise now that happiness and well-being is important too.

If you want a night off, do it without feeling guilty. If you can only find 15 minutes a day to write, then that's OK, too. I read an article in The Times magazine last week, in which advice was given to "sit down and spend 15 minutes working on something. Just 15 minutes. Then stop. If you feel like continuing, then that's fine, but don't feel you have to if it just isn't working for you." It's a sort of egg-timer method for getting things done, be it writing or a chore such as sorting through bills. I like that method because it's a no-pressure method. I tried it with my proofreading studies - did some revision for 15 minutes and then ended up continuing for another 15 minutes. It's a great way of getting into something when you've been procrastinating about it...

Anyhow, I may have diverted from the original topic a little, but thought that method was worth mentioning :)

Rachel Fenton said...

It's easy to feel less than when so many writers - successful or otherwise - are spouting on about the "best" methods. I felt the same and I was also feeling inadequate when the guardian did the writer's rooms series! I was thinking, I can't call myself a writer if I don't even have an office! Good thing I didn't wait for that! Just do whatever works for you on any given day.

Teresa Stenson said...

Sofluid - that's very good advice, I'm going to look that Times article up too.

I think it's inevitable to compare output to others', especially the ones we see have 'made it', it's like wanting to know what the secret it. It's: 'Oh, getting up at 4, writing constantly til 6, having a nap, going for a run, primal screaming at 10, gin and tonic at 12, re-writes in the afternoon, peruse the shelf with all the different translations of my books til 5, read a great work of literature til 6, eat dinner made by supportive spouse drizzled with homemade olive oil at 7' - or something just as mythic.

Thanks for your comment - glad the post resonated with you.

Rachel - I loved that series in The Guardian, even though I don't have a room of mine own either. But yes - do what works for you, and it can change, like you say 'on any given day'. I reckon it's something you have to go through, trying all the different ways. There are so many. And yet... so few.

Miles said...

I find other people's writing habits interesting and often useful - as you know from all the quotes I refer to - but over the years I think I've learned to detach them from my own way of writing.

Every filmmaker, and possibly writer, does that terrible thing of reaching 25 and thinking, 'I'm the same age as Orson Welles when he made Citizen Kane' or hitting 33 and thinking, 'George Lucas, Star Wars' but I had to stop it because it's pretty absurd to try and fit yourself into someone else's framework of life or working habits.

Personally I was a late bloomer and spent my 20s working out how the hell to be a writer, and I know that as long as I'm doing the work it doesn't matter if I'm 50 when I publish my first novel. I'd rather it was nearer 40, but in the meantime the best thing we can do is knuckle down and do the work and try and enjoy it.

At times like this, I just try and sit there, open up the document, sit still and begin writing until the characters start talking to me.

I have to write six pages of novel this week so that I will actually hit the 30,000 word/100 pages mark. Then I can stop exaggerating to people that I've already done it ;-)

Teresa Stenson said...

Hi Late Bloomer. Well, you've defo made up for any arsing around you didi in your 20s in your 30s. You've done loads in the past few years, inspirationally so.

I'm 30 in 2 months and I think it's gonna be ace. I like this idea that you spend your 20s working a few things out and your 30s you get to know yourself better.

I already know you got to the 'real' 30K from your comment somewhere else so well done, you big accidental liar.