The question I get asked more than most ("Where do you get your ideas from?" and "When is the next one coming out?" aside) is, "How do you spend your day?" In the beginning, I used to be a little defensive in answering it, because I wasn't entirely sure how I spent my day. Admittedly, I wasn't sitting around in my vest watching children's television, or napping until midday, but I never seemed to get quite as much done as I should have and, anyway, it wasn't like I had a real job so explaining it was harder than I thought.
Also, if I added up the time I spent actually writing, it often didn't seem to come to very much, even though I didn't get a great deal else done in the interim. So, in the interests of full disclosure, I'm going to try to explain exactly how I spend a working day, within reason.
I have an office at the top of my house. At the moment, it's serving as a kind of storeroom as well for assorted copies of my books packed in boxes, bits of electrical equipment (I have a new scanner and phone, but I'm mildly terrified at the prospect of trying to set both up together, so I've been putting it off for a while and now it won't get done until August.) and most of the paperbacks I've accumulated over the years and haven't been able to part with. My desk is large, and vaguely V-shaped. It faces a wall, with a Velux window above it, so I can't get distracted by a view of anything but clouds and the edge of my chimney. It also gets rather warm at this time of year, so working there is a little less pleasant than in winter.
I write in silence. I can't listen to music when I work. At the moment, I have painters redecorating the house, so I'm trying to tune them out. When I was writing The Black Angel, the same men (they're great, incidentally, and I like them so much I have to force myself not to spend time nattering with them over coffee at the kitchen table) were retiling my bathroom and installing an en suite, and for various reasons I ended up working for weeks at my dining room table. It wasn't ideal. I like my office space. I don't even write very well when I'm travelling. I had always thought that writers could write anywhere, but I'm not like that. Where writing is concerned, I'm a creature of routine. It's part of the discipline, I think.
This morning I was at my desk at nine, a large cup of coffee to hand. I had been away for a few days, so I performed my usual default displacement activity, which is dealing with email. There were just under 200 messages, some of them junk, but most requiring at least a short answer. There were also two sets of email interviews for The Book of Lost Things, which took me about an hour or so to do. By then, it was close to midday.
I'm just about to start another draft of The Unquiet, but I have to travel again this week, so today I'm going to spend much of my time transferring the draft on to my laptop and making a backup copy to bring with me, just in case. I'll also put the draft on a little 1GB micro drive. I'm paranoid about losing it, I think, or of making lengthy changes only to discover that they haven't been saved. I'll try to assemble a folder of notes as well, as I have some idea of what needs to be added to parts of this draft. Two or three new chapters will also have to be written, and I don't want to start them while I'm away only to discover that I left the notes at home.
On an average day, though, at this stage in the writing, I would try to get two or more chapters revised. Progress quickens as the rewriting process goes on, simply because there's a little less to change each time. By the time I usually stop at 1.30pm or 2pm, I'll have done at least a chapter, perhaps more if there were few changes to be made. I'll then stop and go out to the gym, or simply ramble off to have a cup of coffee and read for a while. Still, I find it hard to concentrate on reading at that point in the day, probably because my mind is ticking over on my own work. I think I take a break largely because it would be counterproductive not to do it, so I just have to find ways to fill the time until my batteries have recharged enough to enable me to get back to work.
After an hour or two, I'll return home and sit at my desk again. I'll answer the emails that have arrived in the interim, then try to tackle another chapter or two. I stop if I feel that I'm skimming, or that I'm just trying to file away another chapter as 'done' in order to make myself feel better. By 6.30pm, maybe 7, I'll try to finish up for the day, but sometimes I'll feel the urge later to do some work, often a minor thing that has just struck me and that I'm afraid I'll forget to do otherwise.
And for the rest of the time, I worry. I think writers are usually either writing or thinking about writing, and there's very little other stuff in between. At certain points in the process, I can't even enjoy a trip to the movies, so distracted will I be by my own work. It's not so bad now, as the lion's share of the new book is done, but I know it will begin again soon as I try to figure out what to do next.
And that, I suspect, will form the substance of next week's column . . .
This week John Read
Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops by James Robert Parish
and listened to
Damaged by Lambchop (promo copy - it's quite superb, probably the band's best work yet)
Nineteeneighties by Grant-Lee Phillips