Inspiration, procrastination and the importance of pens: how writers write

Sam Leith in The Spectator:

ScreenHunter_2794 Aug. 18 23.03How do they do it? Among writers, the earnest audience member at a literary festival who asks, ‘Do you write by hand or on a computer?’ is a sort of running joke; an occasion for the rolling of eyes. And yet, let’s enter a note in defence of that audience member: how novelists and the authors of literary nonfiction go about their work is interesting. If, as Kingsley Amis argued, most of a writer’s work is the application of the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of the chair, it’s legitimate to ask: what trousers, what chair, sexuality where and when? In my experience the answers are wildly different from writer to writer; an experience borne out by our sampling — 400 words a day, or 15,000? A bath for inspiration, or exercise? Endless redrafting or first thought, best thought?

Kamila Shamsie:

For years I tried to avoid building up ‘writing habits’. They quickly become writing tics that get in the way of just sitting down and getting on with putting words on a page. When working on my first novel, I wrote in the daytime as well as the night, wrote by longhand as well as on my computer, wrote in one continent or another, just so long as I had a quiet space.

But at a certain point, habits creep in. Sometimes for your own good: though I’m nocturnal I force myself to write during the day, so that I can be done by the evening. Sometimes for the sake of convenience: it’s been years since I wrote longhand — editing is so much easier on a laptop. Sometimes for no good reason except that every writer needs to have something to be irrational about: while I can still shift from one continent to the next as I write, I can no longer — as I did with my first three novels — write while looking at a wall. I need a window to look out of, or better yet, a table and chair outdoors so I’m unenclosed.

I could pretend that lack of enclosure is necessary for the imagination to feel unbound, or some such hooey. Truth is, I let down my guard, I allowed in a tic, and now it’s taken up residence and won’t be shifted.

More here.