Fidgeting your way to a novel

Keen followers of this blog, if such there be, will have noticed that we’ve had a bit of a pause recently. Three weeks or so without a post.

That’s been for a couple of reasons. The first is that we’ve been manically putting the final pieces in place for the launch of our lovely & delightful Festival. The second , even better reason, is that I’ve been putting in place the final pieces of my equally lovely & delightful detective novel – a follow up to Talking To The Dead, which is coming out later this summer in Britain, the US, and plenty of other places too.

I’m going to talk a bit about TTTD in future posts. Not just the construction of the book (which is, I’m sure, my best novel yet) but also its publishing. After all, it’s somewhat dispiriting writing a good book if no one reads it and how a novel is published is every bit as important to sales as the quality of the novel itself. (Or more so, indeed.) But before that, can I just say, this to Sam in response to his post: Wot? No distractions? None? Are you kidding me?

Personally, I can’t write unless I have plenty of fidget-activity too. I always write with full internet access wherever possible. And if there isn’t access for any reason, then I always miss it.

And it’s not just the net. My WW colleagues will be able to testify that no one east of Offa’s Dyke drinks more tea than I do. Since the kettle is on the ground floor and our office is two storeys up, I’m up and down those stairs all day. And when one of the dogs needs to go out into the garden, or when the postman knocks, or when the phone goes, all that’s another excuse for more tea and more yammering up and down those stairs.

Those things aren’t the enemy of my novel. They’re an essential part of my process. I sort of fiddle my way into the zone. Full immersion in the novel tends to take me a couple of hours or more and all the fiddling around is a way of easing that transition.

What’s more, I find the internet unbelievably useful to creative endeavour. Google maps and Street View is a fabulous way to research locations from home. Wikipedia is an awesome place to find a sniper’s rifle for Lev, one of my characters. (He likes this one.) There are stunningly useful websites on forensic science – like this one – run by people who stand ready to answer dippy questions from numpties like me.

And so on. Of course, you could research all these things afterwards, or do your homework beforehand, but I find that the imagination becomes stymied by ignorance. Not having at your fingertips the detail of that sniper’s rifle may inhibit your flow. Yes, you can always come back to the text, but you won’t be in the same place as you were in that first rush of writing it. I’m a huge believer in editing and re-editing text for as long as it takes, but I also get vast benefit from exploiting the creative rush to the max while it’s on.

I’m aware that thoughts like these have become controversial. Proust used to write in a cork-lined room, bless his sensitive Gallic soul. Jonathan Franzen wears ear plugs. He has a white noise device. He has physically incapacitated his computer from playing computer games or connecting to the net. His writing office is famously bare. And Jonathan Franzen is a Great American Novelist. So if we’re not doing the same, we must somehow be philistines. So perhaps we should go one better. Out-Franzen Franzen? We could try wrapping our heads in duct tape, using our laptop only for basic heating & lighting, or why don’t we try stuffing up our nostrils with goose fat to prevent the incursion of dangerously distracting smells.

Or not. You can disable your computers and get out the goose fat if you like. Me, I like to write amidst the hurly-burly, plugged into the net, and never more than a few moments away from my next cup of tea.

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  • Skylark

    I’d get nothing done if I didn’t cut myself off from distractions sometimes. The internet is my greatest friend (for research) and my worst enemy (for distraction). It just depends what stage of my novel-writing I’m at. Very new ideas need the internet for research, more advanced ideas fully researched and being moulded into half-decent prose definitely do not as it’s too distracting. Editing/rewriting depends very much on my mood but I’m probably more productive without distractions.

  • Alanboy

    I could not do anything creative in the environment Harry describes; it would be distraction overload, and thus destructive to anything creative.
    I can only stand back in awe of someone who can do his best work like that.
    I am fortunate. I have an idyllic spot for writing in a remote tree house by a waterfall. I do get distracted, often by bat-sized butterflies, or explorer ants, or unknown things scampering around on the roof, but I can cope with them.

    I have electricity (sometimes) but no internet, and I don’t miss it. Research can wait.

  • Not so sure you’re the Great Tea Drinker you reckon you are… Are we talking cups or mugs?

  • Harry

    Mugs. A three-quarter pint mug that is almost always on the go. Cups are for wusses.

  • Aonghus Fallon

    I find the net an invaluable research tool and I think the modern writer is very, very lucky to have so much information instanteously at his fingertips. That said, I don’t have the internet on my ‘writing’ computer. I usually do the necessary research in my office (after working hours, of course!) and put it on a memory stick. This is a deliberate policy rather than due to financial considerations.

    Things changed a bit when I got my girlfriend a laptop a few years ago. She in turn got herself one of those plug-in internet connection thingummys. Now she has an Ipad and I do find myself using her old laptop (with stick) at home more often than I’d like. Just as I’m doing now! I try to ration myself. The fact that I have to turn on the laptop, type in the password then plug the little fellow helps.

  • Dan

    I used to have a jumbo-sized mug that took a whole pint of tea. Then I dropped it. Devastating.

  • Sam Jordison

    All I can say is, you’re luckier than me… The problem I have is that once I’m in the zone, I find it too easy to slip out, thanks to internet distraction..> But yes, I agree the web must be great for researching sniper rifles and the like.

    As for tea drinking, tea is for lightweights. A drink for the afternoon. In the morning, it has to be black coffee.

  • Harry

    Yes, but you journos are hard nuts. Coffee in the morning, whisky by half past four. As a novelist, my sins are altogether lighter: gambling, syphilis, and oceans of tea.

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