Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Working Hours - Katherine Langrish

“How many hours a day do you spend writing?” my brother asked a few days ago. I wasn’t really thinking, so I said that I start about about nine in the morning after the family has left for work and school. Then I write, with short breaks, till around four in the afternoon.
“Blimey,” said my brother, “is that all?”
“No, no – wait – I didn’t mean that at all! I work all the time. Every waking minute!”
Actually I didn’t say that, but I wish I had. It’s a lot closer to the truth than the neat nine-to-four office-hours answer I’d given him before. He’d asked about writing, and in terms of sitting in front of a keyboard, my answer was accurate. But what nobody except writers themselves know (and those unfortunate enough to have to live with them) is that sitting down in front of a computer and typing the words is only the tip of the iceberg.
For example, there’s research. The book I’m writing right now is set in the twelfth century, and during the last year I’ve read scores of histories, chronicles, and source material connected with that period. That all takes hours of my so-called free time.
But the fact of the matter is that writers don’t have free time.
Writing a book is like being abducted by aliens. Your life gets spun off into a different dimension. You eat, sleep and dream the book. Your characters keep you awake at night. You fall asleep thinking about them and wake up in the morning thinking about them. You feel guilty doing anything but writing; and you feel guilty about all the other things you’re not doing. Weeds take over the garden. The dog doesn’t get walked. The ironing and washing piles up and up. The breakfast dishes stay on the table till teatime. You forget to pick the kids up from school. It’s terrible, exhausting, obsessive, fascinating…
Unfortunately, I can’t imagine living any other way...


Mary said...

I "write" for even fewer hours than you Kath, since I work on my laptop usually mornings only. But I think in the longer term - two chapters a week of about 3,000 - 4,000 words each when I'm deep in a book.

And the changes between my first draft and what I submit are minimal. So I have to be VERY well prepared before I start. So, yes, loads of reserach. I've jsut finished a novel set from 1208 -1211, so am a century after you but it's hard work.

Including research, but not publisher edits, I reckon it takes four to six months to complete a 75,000 to 80,000 word teenage historical novel, but that's just me. And I can't do them end on.

And you are right: everything is grist to the writer's mill - we are never "off."

Mary Hoffman

Katherine Langrish said...

Terribly impressed, Mary, that you write 2 chapters a week. I think I average about 2000 words a week... But like you, my first draft is basically the end product. As for end-on - no way! I'm hoping for six months rest after this one is finished!

Lee said...

Apparently Graham Greene limited himself to 500 words per day, mornings only, and he did just fine. But of course there's also James Joyce, who wrote what - maybe twenty per day - on a good day - but what words!

bookwitch said...

Is this a good time and place to admit to having your third book sitting in the TBR pile, and not moving at all?

As a mere blogger, I don't even get paid at the end of all that writing and thinking and planning. But it's very good to hear about other people's ironing and weeds. This year I forgot that the purpose of soft fruit in the garden is to remember to go outside and pick it and eat it. Hmm.