WHAT LIES BENEATH

Vivien Hampshire considers the importance of finding time to think

 I’m gazing out of the window, oblivious to the noise and bustle going on around me at home, trying to work out just how and where character A is going to meet character B and what will happen to them when they do, when a familiar voice breaks into my thoughts and says: I thought you were meant to be working?

 Well, I am working, obviously. It’s just that, to husbands, partners, children, and probably just about anyone who isn’t themselves a writer, it must look very much like I’m not. Writing is supposed to be about putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, isn’t it? So, how can sitting around doing nothing but a bit of thumb-twiddling actually count as work?

 Like the tip of an iceberg, I sometimes think that the part of my life where the writing itself gets done is just the top 10 %, the bit that sticks up clearly for all to see. But the bulk of the job, the part where the real work goes on, lies in the 90 % that’s hidden away beneath the surface – in the thinking time.

 For me, the actual writing has always been the easiest part. I don’t have trouble with finding the right words and delivering them to the screen in the right order, nicely punctuated and all. But I do, quite a lot of the time, have trouble with finding the right ideas – and ideas are the driving force that will make those words flow from brain to fingers to page.

 Stories don’t just arrive fully formed. They are the end product of a lot of thinking time. Who will my story be about? What will happen, when, and where? How will it end? Before I can describe a person or a place I have to picture them in my mind, work out some sort of plot, add plenty of conflict, break it all down into scenes, and ‘hear’ the dialogue between my characters in my head so I’m sure it works. Get any of that wrong and I’m heading for a lot of frustration, wasted time and false starts.

 Some of my best women’s magazine stories have been rattled off in just two or three hours, but of course they have been bubbling away unseen for a lot longer than that – as the germ of an idea, an opening paragraph, or sometimes just a really good title, begins to expand in my mind, the twists and turns of my story working themselves out as I push my trolley round the supermarket, mop the kitchen floor, or lie in bed staring at the ceiling in the dark. I don’t always know every little thing that’s going to happen before I start to type the words, but without the time to think, there would be no words.

 So, here I am, gazing out of the window again. Is it work? Of course it is. Well, that’s my story anyway… and I’m sticking to it!

 

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12 thoughts on “WHAT LIES BENEATH

  1. Fascinating to ‘hear’ other writers’ methods. My stories ‘arrive’ – getting them on paper can be a slow business searching for the mot juste.

  2. How right you are, Viv. Even lying in bed last thing at night or first thing in the morning could be seen as work, as I often mull over ideas then! Likewise when I’m on a journey somewhere. In a way writers never stop working.

  3. I love the iceberg analogy, Viv, simply because it’s so true. I’ve just been standing at a bus stop with the sun on my face thinking story ideas. It doesn’t all happen at the coal face, does it

  4. Absolutely true, Viv. All writers need time to ‘stand and stare’, as W.H.Davies put it. Even the most prosaic situation can provide a stimulus to the imagination.

  5. So glad I’m not alone! Got up really late this morning because I was working out a plotline before the disturbances of the day kicked in. By the time I write the story down I will already know it and won’t get that awful writer’s block the amateurs tell me exists!

    • Many professionals have suffered ‘writer’s block’. Some have spilled all their riches into one book, one story, others are gifted with prolificacy. Whichever camp we find ourselves is not entirely of our choosing no matter how we hone and strive to perfect our craft. What matters is the quality. One perfectly formed haiku may trump a gaudy blockbuster. I have yet to produce either.

  6. I think whether writers block exists is another discussion altogether. When we write for a living we just have to sit down and do it. You never hear of plumbers block or teachers block, so if there’s an article commissioned or a deadline approaching, we have to make ourselves write, or we don’t get paid. It’s a job to some of us, and we can’t afford to allow ourselves to just sit staring into space – unless we are thinking, of course! Novels (and poems) require a lot of creativity and imagination, and just need a bit more thinking time than some of the other stuff sometimes!

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