It fascinates me how the writing each person brings to our group is so different from everyone else’s. We share, obviously, a common language, and, from our background in University of Toronto writing classes, most of us have access to a common body of writing technique – the ‘craft’. Yet our work is so varied. I also observe that each of us is driven to write. We’re not searching for inspiration; we each already have a story, fiction or ‘true’, that we want to tell. The problem sometimes, as Andrew said last month, is getting down to it.
As an aside, I wonder about my colleagues’ writing spaces. The Guardian newspaper in the UK once ran a series of little vignettes in which established authors shared a photo and some notes on where they wrote. I used to pore over those photos, looking for clues to their genius, ideas that I could copy. They mostly had a study or office, with objects that grounded them and perhaps gave a cue to their writing muscle that when they sat down there it was time to start writing. Although, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Hilary Mantel writes at least some of her work in the shower. Presumably not on a laptop.
Personally, most of the material for my novel so far was written on the subway. Pieces of it came to me while I was walking, often up to the subway on my way to work, and I’d have to scribble the words down as soon as I could. Makes me wonder about Jane Austen, writing at the table in the family’s drawing room. Did her family just ignore her, like my fellow commuters ignored me? Who needs a room of their own?
I’m trying to be more disciplined now as I map these pieces into a structure, and fill it all in. It’s instructive here to read how established writers work, what their method or style of writing is. Again, there are so many variations. I was thrilled when a writing instructor at U of T said one author wrote their scenes on index cards then shuffled and assembled them – kind of what I’ve been doing… And apparently Margaret Atwood plays with the order of her chapters by printing them out and shifting the piles around. But some writers have everything plotted out before they start filling in. It seems that J.K. Rowling spent five years planning the Harry Potter books. That was after the inspiration just came to her – on a train journey.
What is surprising is how many well-known authors write longhand, at least for their first draft. Even with a specific type of pen, like Amitav Ghosh, or in particular makes of notebook, like Michael Ondaatje.
Someday I’ll ask my group where and how they write. And when. In our time together we’re usually too busy reviewing and discussing each other’s stories. After all, that’s what it’s all about.