Don’t lose the moon while counting the stars

I’m always curious about how other writers set about the writing process. I read Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen over the weekend and was fascinated to learn that she (Jane not Claire!) wrote at a small desk, on small sheets of paper that she could quickly tuck away if interrupted. Apparently, between the front door and the room where she wrote there was a squeaky door that she refused to have oiled because it warned her of visitors. This preference for the diminutive was also shared by Vladimir Nabokov who wrote on index cards and Graham Greene who wrote with fountain pen, in small neat writing in a small black notebook. The notebook habit was adopted by Ralph W. Emerson as well.

Many writers start early in the day – perhaps because they are natural Skylarks (at their best in early morning) and or perhaps because needs must – children have to go to school; we have to go to what my father called “a proper job”. This to some extent dictates output. However some authors, are sticklers for a set word count. For example Greene and Hemingway both kept to 500 words a day and Greene would stop without fail, mid-scene when he got there. Stephen King goes for 10 pages (I’m assuming 250 words roughly to a page) and not surprisingly, is one of our most prolific writers.

Place seems to be important too. JK Rowling is famous for her cafe writing, Maya Angelou books into a hotel room from which all possible distractions (pictures, ornaments) are removed, Alan Titchmarsh not surprisingly has his garden shed.

Coffee, fags, deck of cards, mementoes of all kinds to stimulate the imagination seem to be a recurring theme too.

We all have preferences for how we like to work, but in reading about other authors’ habits and in setting up my own writing space I’m reminded of the saying “don’t lose the moon while counting the stars”. In other words do what it takes to help the writing along, but don’t spend all the time setting out the perfect writing environment, don’t lose sight of the goal, just get on and write.

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6 thoughts on “Don’t lose the moon while counting the stars

  1. Interesting. I am attempting a novel. I always dreamt of an idyllic setting. That was never to be. I now write almost anywhere: the living room, bedroom, hospital waiting room, hospital canteen, etc. Sometimes I carry a couple of pieces of A4 folded up in the back pocket of my jeans to write on – I always have a pen in my coat pocket. 500-800 later I then type up.

    • Sounds to me like you’re not “attempting” a novel – you’re writing one:)
      I do love living where I do and I find walks on the beach are good for ideas, for unblocking and for having a private hissy fit when a rejection letter arrives. I haven’t yet managed to write almost everywhere – as I wrote yesterday, I’m easily distracted and, if I@m honest, when other people are around I like to earriwig into their conversations…bad habit but good for getting ideas for “voices” and as a by product you get some wonderful phrases and expressions for your notebook.

  2. I always love the idea of writing in a notebook, but unfortunately because I’ve grown up typing everything, I quickly get annoyed with the longhand process. I know that I could do three times as much in the same amount of time if I just turned on my laptop. Also, my thoughts seem to come too fast for longhand writing to keep up with, although perhaps it would be good to learn to slow them down and be able to write with more consideration for each word I put down on paper.

  3. This is a great reminder to me before I begin my writing for the day. I loved hearing how some of the ” great writers” found a way around so many obstacles. Truly, I think we have it easy now with technology and comfortable spaces for writing all around us.

    • I agree Stephanie – on the whole it is a lot easier however I still write longhand when I can – I find that the PC/Laptop gets in the way of my ideas. I’m always going back and correcting the typos and the formatting and so on. That’s when I “lose the moon.”

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