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