Sunday, 30 March 2014

SHHHH! I’m writing - Lari Don

“Miss Molly had a dolly who was sick sick sick…”

Many writers create playlists of the music which inspires them to write (my publishers revealed the playlist for my own recent teen novel earlier this month) but I doubt that the nursery rhyme Miss Molly Had A Dolly is on many novel playlists.

However, a couple of weeks ago, I was in an Edinburgh library, grabbing half an hour to write while one of my children was at a music lesson, when I realised I was in the library for exactly the same half hour as the local Book Bugs rhyme time session.

So I wrote most of a scene about treachery and betrayal in a library filled with the noise of nursery rhymes and bouncing songs.

And it didn’t distract me at all. It was very noisy, but it was pleasant noise, noise which made me smile whenever I surfaced briefly from my fictional world to listen to boats being rowed or bus wheels going round, and it didn’t prevent me writing.

Which made me consider what does and doesn’t distract me.

I spend a lot of time visiting schools and book festivals etc, so I do a lot of writing in trains, staffrooms, libraries and cafes. And I get a lot of serious focussed work done in those places. I can ignore teachers talking about unruly pupils and difficult families (they must assume that anyone typing on a keyboard can’t hear them…), I can ignore waiters dropping glasses and drunken hen parties at the other end of the carriage.

I can write efficiently in the midst of any amount of noise. Provided it’s nothing to do with me.

Because the one place I absolutely must have peace and quiet for writing is my own house. At home, the slightest creak of a child getting up unexpectedly early in the morning can knock me right out of my imagination (who is that? is she ok? do I have to make breakfast already? oops, I’ve forgotten what I was about to type…) Whereas in a library, a dozen adults singing Miss Molly Had A Dolly to a dozen children who are not my children, is just background noise.

At home any loud noises or even quiet sounds (is anything more distracting than someone making an effort to tiptoe past your study door?) feel like they are my responsibility, so they pull me out of my imagination. But outside the house, the toddlers treating dollies or the waiters clattering or the teachers gossiping are nothing to do with me, so I can stay happily in my own wee writing world.

In order to write at home, I prefer everyone else to be away at work or school, or soundly asleep. Anywhere else, I can write with any level of volume at all, so long as the noise is not my responsibility. And usually, however cheerful the singing or fascinating the gossip, the real world isn’t nearly as compelling as the story I’m creating…

Indeed I often find the outside world inspiring. Unlike some writers, I don’t tend to get ideas from other people’s conversations (so those teachers can keep gossiping…) but I do watch people: how they dress, how they walk, how they act with each other.

I watch the landscape too, from moving trains. And I change what I’m writing if I see something more interesting through the train window.

A couple of years ago I was writing a scene set in a playpark, when the train taking me up the east coast of Scotland passed the bright flags of a golf course. Suddenly a golf course seemed like a much more interesting place to set the hunt, chase and fight. So now Mind Blind, my new teen thriller, has a couple of chapters set on a golf course (though no-one plays a round of golf, it’s all sprinting and martial arts) and those chapters would have been very different if I’d written them sitting at home.

I’m now wondering whether I should write all my books out of the house, where I’m less easy to distract and more easily inspired. That strategy would cost a lot in train tickets and herbal teas though! So probably I should just keep getting up early and staying up late, to write in my nice quiet study…

I’m also wondering if I could test this 'nothing distracts me' theory, and try to write in the middle of a rock concert, a soft play area, or a thunderstorm. Does anyone want to challenge me to write in loud and potentially distracting locations?

Lari Don is the award-winning author of 21 books for all ages, including a teen thriller, fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales and novellas for reluctant readers.
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Joan Lennon said...

It's true - responsibility is always hovering just below the surface at home!

Keren David said...

Agree - home is the most difficult place to work. I've been working a lot in cafes recently, the most awkward noise to ignore was a French conversation class at the next table. The French was just at the slow and easy pace that I could understand, I was tempted to join in. Now I've got myself some noise-cancelling headphones, but I find music very distracting as well.

Sheila Averbuch said...

Ah, I just read that bit of Mindblind and the hilariously phrased "mild golfy thoughts!"

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I get quite distracted writing in public places but sometimes just write about what I hear,,, the glasses against the zinc bar, the voices from the reception desk, the sound of the footsteps across marble... perhaps somewhere I'll need the sound sequence? Oh to be writing sitting in the steam bath of The Grand Budapest Hotel!

Anonymous said...

I definitely find public places more conducive to focused work - especially if there's no internet connection! At home there's always so much displacement activity just a footstep away, even if I'm home alone (except for the dog).

Heather Dyer said...

How funny - I've been writing at home now for weeks and getting cabin fever. I was planning to get out of the house today, and find a café. You've convinced me.

John Dougherty said...

I think I can be distracted anywhere...

But, yes, I agree, writing on a train is much easier than writing near my own children!

I've always believed that I find music too distracting, as well, but I've recently realised that it's songs, rather than music generally, that take me out of the zone.

Lari Don said...

I'm delighted to have inspired you, Heather, and I hope your cafe writing goes well!
I'm also relieved to discover that quite a few of the rest of you find writing at home sweet home distracting.
But Dianne! Zinc bars? Marble floors? You must write in posher places than me! (Worn carpet, plastic tables...)

Lari Don said...

Oh and Sheila - I hope you enjoy the rest of Mind Blind! There are very few mild thoughts in the rest of the book!