A Way with Words
Sarah Quigley describes her writing day.
The first thing my friend Tom, an interior designer, always says when he comes into my house is, “I can’t believe you work on that!” He’s referring to my desk, which began life as a wardrobe door. I found it on the streets of East Berlin 15 years ago, at a time when I had a big apartment, no furniture and little money. Since then, I’ve moved house five times and the desk has moved with me. Right now, it’s not bolted to the wall, so it wobbles when I type fast: a slightly vertiginous feeling that’s not unpleasant.
Last year, in a vintage furniture store, I found my dream desk: 1970s, glowing teak, by a Danish designer called
Peter Løvig Nielsen. Sometimes I yearn for something beautiful like that, but then I remind myself it’s not important. You can write really bad stuff sitting at the most beautiful and expensive desk in the world! And when you’re writing well, everything around you becomes invisible, anyway: it’s just you and the rhythm of the words.
I guess this state is what athletes call “the zone”. A boyfriend once said he was jealous of my writing because it took me somewhere he “couldn’t follow”. It was a very astute comment. The writing zone is such a mysterious place and once you’ve re-emerged into the real world, it’s hard even for you to know how you got there.
I don’t ever Facebook or Twitter, and I don’t use Google much except when I’m doing research. I find most of what’s on the internet quite depressing, and I think social media can infantilise people. Who wants to see pictures of someone else’s lunch? Because I also work as an editor, I’m always up against deadlines, so when I’m at my desk, I don’t like wasting time.
I hardly ever shop online. One of my favourite ways to relax is going to shops, browsing the clothes racks and revelling in the prints and textures. I love talking with shop assistants. Writing a novel feels as if you’re swimming underwater for long periods of time, and glimpsing into other people’s lives is like a breath of fresh air.
The other day I was joking with my neighbour about my “Chinese-factoryworker writing uniform”. I wear the same thing every day when I’m writing. Black hoodie, black sweatpants, no jewellery – and I always tie my hair back. No physical distractions. If I write when I’m dressed up, I feel as if I’m pretending, and I can’t hear the words clearly.
My favourite writing time is from midnight to 4am. There’s a magic to those hours. The world is very quiet; things are still happening very intensely, but in a different way than in daylight. In the middle of the night, time loses its rigidity. You can forget the clock and allow the words to fill the space. Afterwards, you feel drained in a good way: empty but fulfilled at the same time. That’s the best feeling I know.
I think social media can infantilise people. Who wants to see pictures of someone else’s lunch?
Sarah Quigley: “When you’re writing well, everything around you becomes invisible.”