Ooh, I’m so excited. We’re NOT going out tonight, We were going to go out, we were going to see Milk at the Ritzy and I really do want to see it and I love that the (Brixton) Ritzy is a ten minute walk away, and you can have a glass of wine (in a wine glass not a plastic cup!) with your popcorn and the seats are comfortable and everything but yay, we’re not going out tonight.
So why the joy about NOT going out? (And how odd a statement that would sound to my fifteen year old self who was desperate to have the opportunity to go anywhere!)
It’s not that I don’t like going out (though I do LOVE staying in, especially when it’s this cold and there’s eps of Lost and ER waiting downstairs!), it’s not even that I’ve been out/working/entertaining the last four nights in a row, or that I have buddhist events on Saturday and Sunday mornings, with a friend’s 60th Saturday night, and then it’s next week and I’m out 5/7 nights next week too … it’s this :
I write best, easiest, most freely, smoothly, less stilted, less stop/start, between about 3pm and 7pm. It took me two or three books to work this out, but it’s true for me. I’ve tried writing first thing in the morning as most of the how-to-write books tell you to, and I can do it, but I don’t ENJOY doing it. I’ve written late at night and on into the next morning, sometimes that works for me, though often I’ve found that what I thought was amazing at 2am, desperately needs editing in the cold light of day. I’ve written at all times, in all places, trains are often quite good for half an hour or so, cafes are generally horrendous (how do you do it, those of you who write in public places with noise and screaming children and ghastly music in the background? how do you concentrate??!!), under a tree in the park or by the sea in midsummer can also be lovely and can sometimes even make good work (though it’s hard not to let the environment seep in and overtake the ‘real’ scene I’m trying to write) …
Where I like best to write is at my desk, in the mid-late afternoon and early evening, with no extraneous noise, a good bright light, the sun going down, and words getting on the page. (Or in this case, while editing, words coming off this page and going back on to that one, words exiting the page entirely, words re-forming themselves and shifting from dialogue to prose and vice versa, words moving around.)
Far too many ‘how to write’ manuals say you should write first thing in the morning.
I say you ‘should’ write when you want to, write when you can if you can’t do it exactly when you want to, and write when you have ten or five or two minutes spare if that’s all you have. It took me years to work out when I work best and what to do on those many many occasions when I couldn’t work in my ‘ideal’ time, but needed to work anyway. (What to do? Do it anyway! Du’uh!)
I also found, slowly, by trial and error, that different forms need different times too. For me. When working on a script I can work for twelve hours straight – purely because it’s a much smaller project in terms of word count, I find it easier to hold it all in my head, easier to keep on going without a break, or with fewer breaks. On a book, and especially when writing the first or early drafts, I can’t do much more than three hours at a time without writing rubbish. And in that case it’s the working at it every day (even if there’s only half an hour spare, especially when there are readings and book events and traveling to them and doing all the other non-writing ‘work’ that writing books involves) that keeps the whole thing alive for me, that allows me to hold it – try to hold it – all at once. To hold the thing that will, eventually, hopefully, be whole.
It’s 4.30pm. Time to do some work.

(We are going to see Milk on Sunday though. I fully expect to have a good cry, I did love the old award-winning doc.)