The Privacy of Writing

How private is your writing?

I’m dying to know the answer, but I can’t possibly start writing a new blog post without alluding to the length of time that it’s been since I wrote the last one.  There are two reasons for this: summer holidays and the subject of this blog post.

To take the first reason, I find it virtually impossible to write when my children are spending long periods of time at home. This extends to weekends as well. Not one minute goes past when my eldest girl isn’t saying “Can you just watch me….” Or the younger one demanding “Can you make me have mermaid hair? Real mermaid hair please, like a real  mermaid. What is a real mermaid? Where do they live? But where is mermaid land? I like their tails. Can I have a mermaid for my birthday?” To which I usually say yes and then the older girl rolls her eyes and says “Mummy….why are you letting her believe that mermaids are real?” And then I scowl and say “Actually they are.” And then the older girl says “All right, if they’re real where do they live? How do you know? If you haven’t seen one with your eyes then you can’t prove that they’re real.” And all sorts of other logical arguments that I struggle to apply to mermaids. Any day now I expect her to whip out a fully researched and typed up article entitled “Why I Agree With The Proposed Theory That Mermaids Are Mythical Creatures” in response to me happily putting some mermaid curls in my younger daughter’s hair. There cannot be a trivial conversation in this house with my older daughter, at least not unless you have thoroughly researched the topic and have a compelling argument as to why it’s trivial so we can all be in agreement that it’s trivial before we have it. So this leaves me mentally exhausted and unable to make proper use of my valuable thinking time. I use thinking time to iron out plot problems or conjure up ideas. Whenever I imagine authors thinking, I envisage them sitting at their desks, fully and smartly dressed, pen against their mouth and staring into space as they THINK. Earnestly. I don’t think like that. Whenever I’m in the middle of writing something, it never really leaves me so I’m thinking all the time. It hovers at the back of my mind continually whatever I’m doing – getting dressed (thinking), cooking pasta (thinking), yelling at the dog (thinking) – I can always feel it there. A little thought bubble with my characters inside and the events that I have lined up for them. If someone else is demanding constant attention of me, the little thought bubble gets squashed and when I look at it again nothing has progressed. And this happening day in and day out is not good for my poor manuscript – or blog posts. I need my thinking time unadulterated.

The second reason why I haven’t posted anything on here for a long time is basically because I’m in the middle of writing a book. Well, to be absolutely and completely truthful, ‘middle’ is an optimistic statement. I have written a comfortable and (currently) satisfactory 20,000 words. I am a good way into an estimated 100,000 word manuscript. But the thing is, whilst I am writing my book, I actually have nothing to talk about on here. I should just hang up a sign saying “Still writing”, really. And this is because my writing is actually quite private. As in, the manuscript that I am currently working on. I don’t feel that I can discuss the plot or characters or any of the (various) problems that I have encountered so far because it is all so private. I am not sure enough of it it yet to share, and if I write about it with no detail then that would be beyond boring. Basically, it’s just utter insecurity!

One of the things I loathe happening most when I’m writing is someone coming up behind me and reading what’s on the screen, either deliberately or inadvertently.  It’s because these are my words, fresh from my mind, that I have just typed down, not edited or re-read and they are not at the stage where I am ready for someone else to have them in their mind. They still feel like my intellectual property and anyone seeing them before I say so feels like an absolute invasion that makes me extremely irritated and defensive. Only when I have gone over them thoroughly and I’m pleased with how they fit into the story and I’m sure that they work, am I happy to metaphorically put my hand up and say “Yes, these are my words, I wrote them and I’m proud of them.”  And then of course I become desperate for people to read them; quite often it’s my husband who will be happily involved doing something of his choice and I’ll say “I’ve sent it to you, come on, read it – NOW.” Or else my scuba diving instructor sister out in the Cayman Islands will receive an email entitled “Quick, quick, get out of the sea and read this.”

But to give an update, the manuscript is progressing quite well. It’s an emotionally challenging one to write; for some reason a character that I thought was a minor one has evolved into the most major one and developed in a way that meant she leapt into my heart. But she hasn’t had the nicest of lives so I find it difficult to inflict more horrible things on her – but I have to. So as well as taking it slowly emotionally – I have to stop every few hundred words and take a deep breath – there’s also a lot of research to be done, in subjects as disparate as various medical conditions and education for girls in the 1950s. I am doing this very painstakingly because I want it to be perfect, and the information can be quite hard to get hold of so it’s very time-consuming. And then I need the necessary mental space in order to be able to knit all the various details together, and bizarre though this sounds it’s almost purely a subconscious process.  I only see the results of it when I sit down to write and watch what happens.  It’s quite thrilling when it works and it feels like my mind moves into another sphere entirely. When I finish, and go to feed the cat or something, it can take me a few minutes to readjust back to the real world; I feel all dreamy and dopey.

I would be really fascinated to know how other writers feel about their writing. Is it entirely private? Or do you make copious notes and plans so by the time you write it down it’s already pretty much perfect and you don’t mind people reading it as you go along? Or do you sit down with no idea, stumble your way along gradually and take time to hone the detail? Answers on a postcard 🙂

I’m off to try and fit in 1,000 words before the swimming gala that I have to attend later, but as a final plea – if anyone has any compelling evidence of the existence of mermaids then do let me have it because it will probably get my manuscript written faster.



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3 Responses to “The Privacy of Writing”

  1. Father says:

    made me laugh about mermaids………
    but they are real you know

  2. Amanda Egan says:

    I totally agree with the ‘dreamy, dopey’ thing! I can often be seen at the kettle but my mind is off somewhere else, having an argument or painting a scene.
    I think writers are always working – thinking, watching, listening. I can quite happily discuss food shopping with my mother and a character can be tugging at my brain – a bit like your daughters – saying, ‘What about this? Have you considered this for me?’
    I am just about to finish my fourth book and I feel emotionally drained – I always cry! Partly with joy and partly with, ‘What if I can never do it again.’
    But I know that first seed will plant itself as I load the washing machine or feed the cats and away I’ll go again …

    • Sarah says:

      I SO know what you mean about the ‘what if I can never do it again?’ That’s pretty much my first thought every day when I sit down at my computer!! x