Saturday, March 29, 2014

James Lovegrave A Day In A Writers Life

A Day In A Writer’s Life

I’m an old-school writer in that I do first drafts longhand. Yes! Pen and paper! Actual handwriting!

The reason for this is that I’m old enough to remember a time before computers, before the prevalence of IT, before every three-year-old had their own iPad. When I was a kid, we didn’t use screens; we wrote things down. Usually in ruled exercise books.

That was how I wrote my earliest fiction – short-short stories when I was five or six – and it’s how I still do it. There’s something about the connection between hand and pen, pen and paper, the ink flowing directly onto the surface, making shapes, words, sentences. All those crossings-out and insertions. Those additional clauses squeezed into whatever space is available. It seems more real, somehow. It has more value.

Usually I’m at work by eight every morning, earlier if I can get away with it. My sons are off to school, my wife’s gone out, the house has quietened down, the cat is curled up beside me, and sometimes the dog too. The two animals usually can’t get along but somehow call a truce at this time of day and doze while I toil. I’ll scribble away for two or three hours without a break, managing about five pages, six on a good day. That’s two thousand words on average. In addition to the pets I’ll have my iPad by my side in case I need to look something up and also to stay on top of email as it comes in.

I write on wide ruled A4, using a Parker Rollerball, dark blue ink. I call the Rollerball “my lucky pen” and don’t use anything else. I’d like to pretend that I’ve had the same pen since I wrote my first novel, The Hope, back in 1988, but this isn’t the case. I’ve owned several of them over the years, probably as many as thirty. Sometimes they get lost, sometimes they break. I just like the way that particular kind of pen feels in the hand. It’s the right weight and size.

Once I’ve hit the five/six-page mark I usually run out of steam. To try to write any more would be a mistake. It wouldn’t be any good. That’s when the computer goes on and I embark on the process of transcribing that chunk of rough-and-ready, illegible-to-anyone-but-me runic scrawl, turning it into lines of neat, tidy word-processed prose.

This takes about an hour and a half all told, at which point I’ll take a break. Grab some lunch. Then maybe go for a walk, do some yoga, or head off to the gym for a weights session. Which makes me sound very health-conscious, and I’m not, but I feel that all that brain work needs some sort of counterbalance. Doing something physical gets me out of my headspace for a while, forcing me to use muscles rather than grey matter, body rather than mind. It’s a useful and necessary pause.

Then it’s back to the desk to go over the morning’s output, tinkering, polishing, tweaking, recasting, refining. I’ll also go back through earlier parts of the novel and fix little bits here and there that need attention. This keeps me in touch with the overall shape of the book and helps me spot any continuity errors and character inconsistencies that may have crept it. I never stop altering and honing a manuscript until the day it’s finished and ready to go off to be edited.

To some people my method may appear over-elaborate and unnecessarily laborious. It probably is. But it’s what works for me, and has worked for more than a quarter of a century. I could try writing directly onto the computer screen, but I doubt I’d enjoy it and I doubt the end-product would be improved. It might in fact be worse. I’ve got a technique, and I’m going to stick with it. I’m too well-entrenched in my groove, and too superstitious about breaking patterns, to change now.

– James Lovegrove

The latest Pantheon novel, Age Of Shiva, is out now from Solaris Books.

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