Where I Write: The Where and When of Writing

Writing by the water- Credit: Michael Squires
Category: Writing

Sitting on the sofa, lying on the floor, in bed, in the garden, in a noisy café. In a patch of sunshine, somewhere with a view. On my own, or with people around me. Anywhere, really, apart from at my desk at work, or in my study. Those are for my academic work, and so far I’ve kept them as separate places from my creative writing.

That said, it was while staring out of the window from my desk that I first got the inspiration for the novel I’m now writing.

Perhaps the best explanation of where I write is more properly when I’d read

Beyond the window, I saw two boys. The first boldly walked out onto the wall at the end of the garden. The wall is high, its top rounded and mossy. His friend followed, tentatively. Stopped, retreated back. Looked nervously at his friend. He spoke, trying to persuade him to safety. The first boy waited a while, at ease, then rejoined his anxious friend. They ran off.

In the subsequent weeks, I tried to turn these children into characters. It took a while, but with the curtains closed one wild and stormy night, sitting on the sofa, I changed the sex of one, and put her higher up, onto the tenement rooftops. There the story began.

I’ve continued writing in a mix of places. But place doesn’t provide a full explanation. I need to combine the where with the when of writing: for me, last thing at night, or on Saturday afternoons, or heading home on the train, or while on holiday. These are snatches of time – 30 minutes here, and, when I’m lucky, up to two hours there.

But perhaps the best explanation of where I write is more properly when I’d read. This is a different physical space to my daytime job (which frequently extends into the evening and the weekends), but, more crucially, it’s a different mental one. It’s one of relaxation, pleasure, time out. Of getting comfortable, and sinking into a book. Of letting the story take me.

When I sit, or lie down to write, the story feels like it’s just one step ahead of me, waiting for me to pick it up again. I’m following its lead, which is sometimes only a line or two ahead of me. On the whole I don’t know what’s coming next, and perhaps this adds to the suspense (and no doubt some dodgy plotting). When it’s going well, it feels like I’m reading, rather than writing; finding out about my characters’ motivations, hopes and fears as I go.

I’ve just finished a full first draft – and already found some big holes that will need filling. Maybe the redrafting process might usefully benefit from some large flat surfaces – I’ve just drawn, retrospectively, a story map (as well as a map of where the story takes place). Redrafting might need space to spread all these materials out. So perhaps it’s back to my desk.

Who knows, maybe while staring out of the window trying to work out a gnarly plot problem, I will see something that sparks the next book in the series…

Discover more blogs in the Where I Write series. 

Claire Squires

Claire Squires is Professor of Publishing Studies and Director of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication at the University of Stirling. She is a judge for the Saltire Society Literary Awards and Publisher of the Year Award, and previously worked at Hodder Headline publishers. Claire received a New Writers Award in 2015. She regularly speaks about publishing to audiences in Scotland and beyond, tweets from @stirpublishing and @clairesquires, and blogs at http://centralbeltshuffle.wordpress.com/ Her website is http://clairesquires.com/.