December 7, 2014
OH MY BOOKNESS Roberta Aarons
A day in the life of A Writer
It is like the filling of a sandwich – the tasty bit.
Stage one, which is plotting, research, character development, location decisions, is like the outer layer. I work an almost office hours day, although with much overtime. This stage is marked by intense spread sheet planning as I formulate and develop ideas. I spend time on the spread sheet, which I change and change and change again and it never leaves my side. Dates, significant events, relationships are fanatically worked out and hang above my desk. I am always aware how easy it is to marry someone off before they are born! Both my books were challenging in that aspect. ‘My Grandfather’s False Teeth’ covered one hundred years of social history. ‘Slippers in the Oven’ needed precise planning for both timing and geography as there were flashbacks and a sea voyage which needed to be planned in nautical miles.
Later, years later in fact, when the book is complete and you are as satisfied as you will ever be, (which is never satisfied at all) the final stage, the other outer layer, follows. This is editing, proofing, packaging and marketing and I return again to the discipline of conventional working hours. This process is nerve wracking, can be tedious and is usually frustrating. Much of it is out of my control but I return to a more ‘normal’ life, become socially available again with friends and family. I don’t have to remind myself to eat or exercise as it is more like a job, than the magical time of writing.
The filling is the joyous period of writing, seeing blank pages gradually being covered by words, of seeing the story you have dreamt of coming to life, of being inventive, manipulating characters and situations, painting with words. I cherish that phase, however long it takes. It is compulsive, absorbing, all-encompassing and rewarding. Above all, it is more exciting than any other part of the process.
My days are lived differently then.
I wake up thinking of the pages ahead of me and I go to sleep thinking of them. My first action of the day is to check the notebook on my bedside table to see what I might have scrawled,semi-consciously, during the night. My last is to gather up the scraps of paper covered in scribbled notes which litter my home.
When I am working on a book, I write-walk-eat, write-walk-eat, write-walk-eat from early in the morning until late at night, While writing the first draft, I scribble notes all the time and everywhere, walking, on buses, in the supermarket, while gardening, waiting in queues and in the middle of the night. Every room in my home, my pockets and handbag are littered with scraps of paper. Later, if a chapter is troubling me, I take a copy with me wherever I am going and have been known to sit on a bench on a pavement, editing, changing, adding.
When I am I the middle of the book, I have no planned regular routine, but routine just happens, lead by my need to move the story forward. Straight out of bed, my computer is turned on, even before the kettle. Even getting dressed is a delay, so lunchtime can still find me in my pyjamas. I work until I can’t sit anymore. I try to remember to take regular breaks to touch my toes or run up and down stairs but sometimes forget and hours pass as I struggle with a plot point or race to complete a particular section.
I normally lead an active and engaged life. I have many friends and interests. I am involved with different organisations, political, cultural, sporty. I care about bye-elections, theatre reviews and who is winning at whatever sport is the excitement of the day. But somehow, when I am in mid-flow, all things disappear into soft focus, as if they are the unimportant background images of a movie. Worse, post remains unopened, tasks stay listed on my to-do list untouched. The freezer becomes my best friend as shopping, even for food, is an intrusion. Thank goodness for direct debit or bills would remain unpaid!
I am very unsociable. If I am having difficulty with a plot point or ‘lost for words,’ I cook. Mainly large casseroles, as I find chopping vegetables relieves the tension and frustration and I can do it automatically while thinking. I have been known to solve a problem in my head, rush back to my computer, forgetting that the onions are frying in the pan!
Sometimes I unwind by taking long walks by myself along the Thames tow path, but never without my notebook. Occasionally, I dash back as a problem is solved or an idea embellished then the notebook is inadequate and I need to write it in context.
But then one day, however many drafts later, you write ‘The End’ and you enter stage 3. Other people become involved and it is no longer yours and yours alone. Editing, proofing andbringing the book to market come along with needs that are in direct conflict to how you have been living for the previous however many years. It is necessary to engage with other people and include or debate their contribution. It is also the time to catch up with friends and family.
How very bizarre it all is and how noisy and demanding the world seems as you try to explain where on earth you have been. But eventually, sometime later, you clutch a pristine copy of your new book, spread the publicity post card with details of its availability and reintroduce yourself into the normal world. You can no longer avoid telephone calls, must answer emails and show up.
It is even advisable to get dressed before midday as your labour of love needs you OUT THERE!
Roberta Aarons December 2014
‘SLIPPERS IN THE OVEN’
‘MY GRANDFATHER’S FALSE TEETH’
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