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!