Left to my own devices, I can easily sit at my desk all day, and when a deadline is approaching, I often do. If the deadline’s really close – within a week, say – I can be here for much of the night, too. It’s very unhealthy and my time management infuriates my husband (who’s a screenwriter and far more self-disciplined and methodical) but among my novelist friends, my methods are not unusual.
Let’s not talk about how much time I spend wearing my gym kit for no reason or considering snacks or a trip to the library, conveniently located just 10 minutes’ walk away.
There’s a lot of psychology involved in writing fiction, and not just from the point of view of thinking deeply about people, which is essential for creating characters who feel real. Procrastination is a big problem, and the pandemic has left me with a nasty Sudoku habit. I do daily battle with perfectionism and have had to devise strategies for outwitting myself.
Deadlines are helpful here: you have no choice but to get the words down. If anything, writing’s getting harder as time goes on because I want to do more and better with each novel.
On a day without other commitments, I aim to write a thousand new words. My novels – Risk of Harm is my sixth – are generally between 100,000 and 115,000 words long, and while many will be trimmed out when I edit, a thousand words a day means solid progress is happening. These days, I outline my books before I start writing.
I come to my desk as soon as my daughter is on the bus for school, and have the second of many cups of coffee while answering email and social media messages. After that, I read the previous day’s words and make any small changes, which gets me back into the story.
These days, I wait until I have a good chunk of text before going back and making bigger changes. It’s easier to go forward when I have a solid foundation but again, progress is of the essence, and words written at a good pace often read that way, too.
The good news is, the more you work, the easier it is to find flow, when the words come easily and you look up to discover that hours have passed and you have a new scene. This part of writing is addictive, a high that’s worth all the times you chase but don’t catch it.
My daughter has to be picked up from the school bus and people seem to need dinner every night but if I could work to my ideal schedule, it’d be 8.30 until lunchtime, 4pm until eight and then, if I’m really on a roll, after dinner again until midnight or 1am. Sometimes, if I’m on a high when I finish, it takes a while to come down enough to sleep. In that way – and there are a couple of others – writing can feel quite rock’n’roll.
Risk of Harm by Lucie Whitehouse is published by 4th Estate and is out now!
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