Saturday, 30 April 2011

Writing a Novel (Part Two): A Place to Write

Welcome to the second part of my series looking at the process of writing a novel. Part One: What to Write? can be read here.

One of the great things about writing is that it doesn’t require a lot of equipment – something to write with and something to write on, and you’re sorted. If you're really stuck, you can breathe on a window and write with your finger! Obviously if you’re going to attempt to be published, eventually you will need to get your words typed-up, but there’s a lot of writing required before getting to that stage.

A common excuse for not writing, along with not having the time (which I’ll look at in a later post) is not having a quiet space. I know that some writers need absolute silence and solitude in order to work. Bill Hussey locks his door, and sometimes even uses ear-plugs; by contrast Frank Cottrell Boyce has talked of finding the clamour of a house full of children inspiring.

Miriam Halahmy wrote much of Hidden in cafés
Most of us are somewhere in-between, and try to write when and where we can. Miriam Halahmy and Candy Gourlay are just two writers I know who are part of a long line of café scribes, following in Ernest Hemingway’s espresso stained footsteps. Some of us write in libraries or on trains – I’m drafting this longhand in my notebook while walking, during my lunch break. Sometimes, in order to write anything at all, we have to adapt and learn to get the words down where we can.

Having said that, I think it is useful to find a more permanent space to write. This doesn’t have to be a beautifully designed bespoke writer’s study, though that would be nice. Stephen King wrote his early novels with a typewriter balanced across his knees in his laundry nook, Roald Dahl famously in his shed, and I read somewhere that Michael Morpurgo writes in bed. What’s important is finding a space you will associate with writing, so that as soon as you enter, your brain recognises it and thinks, ‘Ah, so this is what we’re doing now!’

My corner of the attic

I've written in libraries, on a laptop balanced on a drawing board in the bedroom, but about two years ago I cleared a space for a makeshift desk in the corner of our attic. It’s cold in winter and besieged by wasps in summer, but I love it. And when I climb the ladder each evening, by the time I sit down and switch on my computer, my brain already knows what’s required. It doesn’t always comply, but that’s another post altogether …


  1. I love writing in bed, I have a special tray and everything. Originally, I bought the tray because of my love of breakfast in bed (boy that seems a million years ago), but now it's definitely for those cosy writing times. I now have a little desk tucked in the corner of the room with my pin board on it.

  2. A tray sounds good Michele. I sometimes write in bed and end up with notebooks, pens and papers strewn all over the place. Then there's the problem of falling asleep …

  3. Hey Dave, I write in bed too, and tend to get more done when I'm up early, 5am the other day! It was heaven, perfect peace. Kids can distract when they're tearing round but if work is going well they can inspire. We currently only have one working computer so the kids are constantly on my case to play games v my opus! I would love a 'writers shed' like Dahl, that would be my dream writers pad. I have tried many times to write in Libraries but the accepted solitude and silence means the slightest movement and utterance from anyone drives me nuts! If I were to write in coffee shops I would be too distracted by muffins. J