General, Literary places, The Writing Life

How do you write and what is your advice? Writers share their routines

Pen and ink

Pen and ink – essential, and essential

I write anywhere using my gold fountain Sheaffer pen using royal blue ink. I am not being pretentious. I just can’t write without this pen. And yes, maybe I’m superstitious. The ink is very smooth and I need smooth-flowing ink to be able to think carefully. I hate scratchy blotchy dried-up ball point pens with thin needles for the nib. If I find one of these, I will throw it away straightaway (even if it is not mine).

My father gave me this gold pen when I went to Uni and it has been my constant companion. Since 911 I was gutted I cannot take it onboard a flight in case the ink is actually explosive fluid or in case I stab somebody. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword.

I like to write by hand in bed on hardback notebooks.

This handwriting won't win any sweets, said the teacher.
This handwriting won’t win any sweets, said the teacher.

My love of writing comes from the love of stationery. I can never resist looking in Paperchase, Waterstones or IKEA at notebooks. I never use pieces of paper or A4 pads because they will get lost or be accidentally used to wrap rubbish or fish bones or something. For days, weeks or months I will think of an idea before I actually write it down. It feels very final and exciting when I put pen to paper because I know the idea has been building and it’s formed. I write down my dreams as a lot of my stories are dream sequences. I never type anything until I am ready.

My advice to you is: Declutter your mind. Always read more than you write. Do both with a passion. Don’t worry what people think. And suffer. Writing is hard work.

In the Roald Dahl museum and Story Centre, these writers share their routine:

Marjorie Blackman says: “I write in my attic. My major characters have to become real people to me. I write down things like what their best friends think of them, what the character thinks of himself or herself and whether or not it’s true, favourite foods, favourite place and why, etc.
My advice to you is: Read lots and lots of different kinds of books, even the books you suspect you might not be too keen on. Don’t copy anyone else’s style – find your own. And don’t give up!”

Mark Haddon says: “I write mostly at my cluttered and messy desk in my very cluttered and messy office/studio. When I have an idea, I write it down, print it out, take it away, scribble all over it, return to the computer and repeat. Later, I give what I’ve written to other people to read, then I go back and edit it. Often many times. My advice is: Read lots. Write lots. And throw lots of it away. In the end our writing only really works if we put ourselves to one side and help readers find out about themselves.”

Michael Morpurgo says: “I write on my bed, in an exercise book, by hand. I spend weeks, months, dreaming a story up, weaving the plot, living the characters, then simply tell it down onto the page. My advice to you is: Live first, live an interesting life. Go places, meet people, listen, look, feel the world around you. Record, write a little each day. And read.”

Roald Dahl says: “My work routine is very simple. And it’s always been the same, for the last forty-five years. I go out to my writing hut at ten o’clock in the morning, and I stop at twelve. In the afternoon, I return for another two hour session from four to six. I have a comfortable chair, I’ve got a writing desk. It’s got on it dark green billiard cloth which is very soft on the eyes. I put a roll of corrugated paper under it so that it’s exactly at the right angle. I have an old leather trunk, filled with blocks of wood, to put my feet on. Once you’re in here, you can lose yourself in your work. It is my little nest, my womb. My advice to you is: Whether it is with a group of characters or an idea for the plot, begin to write. Everything develops under the pencil as you begin to write. It really does. And as Hemingway told me: When you are going good, stop writing. Terrific, because then you can pick up again!”

What’s your routine?

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