Fourth Wish : Day 21
Going away on a family holiday, eleven days into the first draft of a new novel, scores poorly on the good-idea/bad-idea spectrum. Writing during a family holiday scores even worse in the Dad/Husband of the Year Awards. These, then, were the horns of the dilemma on which I impaled myself when we set off for a break in the Scilly Isles. But I return bearing news of domestic contentment . . . and a few thousand words to add to the typescript of The Fourth Wish.
“How?!” I hear no-one cry.
Simple. I always wake up around 7.00 or 7.30am and my wife and daughters rarely surface from their beds before 10.00am. So, each morning, I’d sneak down the creaky stairs of our rented cottage on the island of Bryher (pop. 86) and – barring any skull-related mishaps with a low beam – I’d settle myself at the breakfast table with coffee, notepad and pen and the background cries of gulls and oystercatchers.
A lot of words can emerge in two or three hours, especially when you’re conscious of the fact that it will be the only writing time you’ll get all day. On one or two mornings last week, I filled more pages than I’d have done at home, with the whole day in which to work.
Just as importantly, for me, is the need for continuity. I like to write something every day, if I can, when I’m working on a first draft. Even if it’s only a couple of hundred words.
The risk, otherwise, is a loss of momentum, and a host of other losses (register, tone, focus, concentration etc.) I don’t tend to lose the thread of the storyline, because I have that pretty well sketched out at the planning stage – at least in outline – but I can lose my immersion in the central character(s) and his/her/their perspective(s), especially if I have to break off from writing for more than a day or two.
With The Fourth Wish, I’d made a good start ahead of the holiday, in terms of striking a voice for Gloria’s (my heroine’s) 1st-person narrative, and was beginning to get into role – to “inhabit” her, as I think of it. I was afraid of jeopardising that, and possibly denting my confidence in the novel at a crucial early stage, if I went away for ten days and wrote nothing.
So, each morning, I spent a couple of hours alone with Gloria at the breakfast table. Then, hearing sounds of movement upstairs, I’d file her away and spend the rest of the day with my wife and the girls. I feel I know her a lot better than I did before the holiday. Gloria, that is. She doesn’t use up all the hot water in the shower, either.
from The Book of Ruminations, by Qi Tinh (151 – 203 AD)
Each Spring, when the snows melted and the mountain paths became passable, the Great Sage would set off from the Chinese monastery,
where he spent the Winter, and journey on foot through the sunlit lowlands for several months.
“Do the travels not distract you from your ruminations?” a disciple once asked.
“It is true that distraction can be found in the soles of the feet,” the Great Sage replied, “but it is also true that distraction dwells as readily in the buttocks’ cheeks.”