How I Write

I spent an hour and a half or so in a Starbucks today, and got about 1200 words written. A pretty good output for such a short period of writing. I’m very happy with the scenes I wrote, too; they are dialogue-heavy, include a little humour, and set up a lot of plot and conflict. I’ve been wanting to write this kind of stuff for a while now — lately, after I finish writing I usually think, well, this is going to be cut when I edit the novel.

Not that anyone asked, but I thought I’d describe how I do the writing I do.

First, I write novels longhand. Something about the tactile experience of pen and paper gets the creative juices flowing for me. Usually I buy reasonably nice notebooks to write in, too — not cheap composition books or spiral-bound notebooks, but higher-quality journals, leather-bound with good-quality paper. A novel usually fills two or more notebooks, and I try to use the same notebook for each volume, so that the word count per page (and therefore per book) is approximately the same.

I also prefer pens that provide a thick stream of ink. It’s kind of a stupid preference, because I’m left-handed, and more ink means more smudges. But if the ink is too thin or too light, I start unconsciously pressing harder, which tires out my hand far too quickly. Recently I bought a Lamy Accent Matte Finish on sale at a stationery store that was going out of business, so it was $35 instead of $140. It writes really nicely — the ink flow is caused by gravity, not pressure (as with a ball pen).

So much for the accoutrements. The other thing that I need to write my best stuff is space in public.

It’s a little bit crazy — I’m really easily distracted and annoyed by extraneous sound, and the general public is known for its noise-making. But there’s something about the human energy that I get sitting in a busy coffee shop that really gets me focused and helps the ideas, and therefore the words, to flow.

The sounds are a problem, so I usually have the headphones in and an energetic mix of music playing while I work. Almost any music is fine, actually, as long as it drowns out the noise around me, but guitar-driven rock or punk songs are what I turn on to start.

One feature that has emerged lately, thanks to my iPhone, is that I find myself needing to complain about the people around me while I write. Coffee shops — Starbucks in particular — seem to attract a good mix of the annoying and the unaware; when something particularly offensive swims into view, I can’t help but report it somewhere. That somewhere used to be my Facebook status, but since people have started to comment on it more and more often, I’ve switched to a Twitter feed instead. I find the 140 character restriction a little difficult but economy is the soul of &c. &c.

Anyhow, that’s how these novels of mine get written. And tomorrow, some coffee purveyor will be a little richer, one of their seats will be a little warmer, and I’ll have another scene or two down on paper — I hope.

  1. I am fascinated by the way some writers – you, for instance – can manage to produce work while in a busy people-filled setting. I have tried writing fiction in a coffee shop, to see if I could do so, but I can’t. However, I can revise non-fiction stuff almost anywhere, including on a bus, when the deadline for the work is approaching like an express train.

    This summer, I was planning to revise my very first drafty-novel at the library, but the library will be undergoing renovations, so I’ll stay at my usual tiny crowded desk. My kingdon for a long table to sort things on!

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