My work­ing day

‘Telling any­one about your writ­ing day you have to ac­count for your re­la­tion­ship with the on­line world’ Kamila Sham­sie

The Guardian - Review - - Review -

The day be­gins with the alarm at 8.30 and then com­mences the great strug­gle: wake up or go back to sleep. I am by na­ture a noc­tur­nal per­son; the hours be­tween mid­night and 3am are when the world feels al­most en­chanted in its still­ness, and writ­ing comes most eas­ily. Through my 20s, I wrote at night – 10pm to 4am. If I were a dif­fer­ent kind of per­son, one who could shut out the world and my­self, in or­der to work I would still be writ­ing dur­ing those hours. But my life re­quires both soli­tude and so­cia­bil­ity, and in the in­ter­est of the lat­ter I have to re­shape the ways in which I in­ter­act with the for­mer. So, no more writ­ing into the early hours of the morn­ing. The alarm rings; I strug­gle with my­self; I get out of bed. (How long this process takes is en­tirely de­pen­dent on how keen or not I am to get to my writ­ing desk).

Into the kitchen for a cup of cof­fee, and stop along the way to pick the Guardian off the door­mat. Drink cof­fee; read pa­per. (How long this process takes is en­tirely de­pen­dent on how keen or not I am to get to my writ­ing desk). Then I change into some­thing com­fort­able verg­ing on un­view­able by the out­side world. I read what I’ve writ­ten the day be­fore, read it out loud to see if the ear might pick up flaws and fail­ures that the eye can’t see. This is nec­es­sary, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a form of pro­cras­ti­na­tion.

Then I write. But of course there's a sig­nif­i­cant omis­sion in here: I haven’t men­tioned the in­ter­net and writ­ers telling any­one about their writ­ing day have to ac­count for their re­la­tion­ship with the on­line world. So yes, at some point be­fore I set­tle down to work

I look at email and Twit­ter and What­sApp. (How long this process takes etc.) Some days I am driven to put my phone in an­other room and switch off the wifi on my lap­top; on other days, once I’ve started writ­ing the emails ping in and I barely no­tice them. What­ever the cir­cum­stances, I’m never so fool­ish as to have Twit­ter no­ti­fi­ca­tions switched on.

And then I write. Or some days, I don’t, be­cause all this has taken me up to lunch and now I have to find or pre­pare some­thing to eat (HLTPT etc). And af­ter I’ve eaten I’m sleepy, so noth­ing’s go­ing to hap­pen and per­haps I should just go for a walk. While I walk, I think about the novel. Sen­tences and scenes write them­selves so much more eas­ily when you aren’t ac­tu­ally writ­ing them. They aren’t al­ways the sen­tences and scenes that I’m work­ing on that day – some­times it’s scenes of what’s yet to come, which I hold at bay (I write chrono­log­i­cally, al­ways). Other times I re­alise there’s some­thing miss­ing ear­lier in the nar­ra­tive that I need to put in.

I re­turn to my desk. I write. Some days it’s like wad­ing in trea­cle while be­ing al­ler­gic to trea­cle. Other days, I’m in my el­e­ment, and more deeply at home in my­self than I can ever other- wise be. Yet other days, I’m just one of the mil­lions of peo­ple who are sit­ting at a desk, get­ting the day’s work done.

I don’t have a set time for stop­ping, but one of the plea­sures of not be­ing a noc­tur­nal writer any more is in know­ing that there is a cer­tain mo­ment in the day when I can push my chair back from the desk and say, I’m done un­til to­mor­row. Some times, late in a novel, when ev­ery­thing has ac­quired an al­most un­bear­able mo­men­tum and I need to write what hap­pens next in or­der to know what hap­pens next, I might re­turn to those old ways and sit down for a writ­ing ses­sion that con­tin­ues un­til 2 or 3 or 4am – but those days are rare.

Mostly, evenings are times to read and to see friends. I know I’ve reached a cer­tain point in a novel when my so­cial world con­tracts and I only want to see the clos­est friends in whose com­pany it’s pos­si­ble to emit a very low thrum of en­ergy with­out feel­ing the need to give any more. Even­tu­ally, home again, and an episode of some TV show. And then com­mences the great strug­gle: go to sleep early enough to be well rested when the alarm rings, or stay awake en­joy­ing the post-mid­night still­ness of the world.

The hours be­tween mid­night and 3am are when the world feels al­most en­chanted

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