Writing away

Ever since I read the amazing Cazalet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard, and discovered the fabulous character Clary, I’ve been attracted by the idea of going away to write. In the final novel, Casting Off, Clary, the clumsy and endearingly inkstained writer, sequesters herself in a cottage to finish her first novel The Visiting Moon (what a great title, hm? Definitely one for my list of ‘fictional books I’d love to read’). With no company and not even electricity, she finishes the book in a blaze of triumph. Whereas I have electricity, internet, and many other sources of distraction. Does it matter? How much peace do you need to write?

It’s on my mind now because, despite what I said, I didn’t write at all for three days over the weekend. I was moving house and somehow just couldn’t find the energy. Even now it’s done I feel like a cat that has to turn round three times before I can settle. I need to walk through the house over and over and pick things up, work out where everything is until I don’t need to think about where to find my toothbrush/wireless mouse/small but apparently vital bit that makes the table stand up (I hate moving).

I’ve been writing for more than two years now on the train, often hemmed in on both sides by bad-breathed commuters, other people’s loud dull conversations about children’s ski gear, tinny sounds of iPods, children crying. For some reason I find it works perfectly. I’ve powered through a torrent of words in this time. Something about the level of background noise and the forward movement is the perfect combination to distract my attention, while the rest of my brain gets on with writing.

Natalie Goldberg, in her brilliant book Writing Down the Bones, recognises this phenomenon. She suggests scribbling away in cafes or even laundrettes to keep the ‘monkey mind’ occupied while you work. I’ve done both café and laundrette-writing, mainly while living abroad, and can advocate the idea. Also on buses (too bumpy), planes (fine but the whooshing noise somehow makes me want to sleep), and even on boats (even better than trains, if anything). While I do find it hard to write new work with the TV or music on, I think if I was immured in total silence I would find myself running for the nearest village shop as fast as I could. My ideal trip would probably be to circumnavigate the globe on trains and boats, scribbling away and sometimes surfacing to speak to human beings. Sort of Eighty Thousands Words Around the World. I suspect though that while going away to write still has an irresistible appeal, most of us could do it anywhere if we’d only get on with it and stop prevaricating. So that’s enough unpacking/DIY/discussions about toilet-roll holders for me, time to work!

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