First off, a (very belated) happy new year to you! I always seem to be behind the curve when it comes to updating my blog, so wishing you a happy new year a month and a bit into February shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, I hope.
As I write this, I’m sitting on a train to London, on my way to a meeting with my editor. When you work on your own all day, every day, it’s always nice to get out and be a little social. I love writing books, have never wanted to do anything else, but the one thing I do miss about my old life as a journalist is being around people. The crushing despair of middle management, the petty politics and the insane pressure of constant deadlines are easier to leave behind, but the people? That was definitely the biggest wrench about packing in the day job, and the one that requires a surprising amount of adjustment when you make the leap into full-time writing.
Of course, some writers get around the solitary experience of sitting at a keyboard all day by paying to rent a desk somewhere, or by setting up shop in a café or a library. That makes a lot of sense to me because, often, the greatest moments of inspiration come when you’re watching other people. (Especially if you look up and they're giving you the death stare, or they start singing loudly, or they get into an argument with the person next to them – all of which has happened to me.) I’ve tried the local coffeeshop on a few occasions, I’ve set up home in the library too. But here's the thing: something never quite clicks. I write, I just don’t write as well. It’s weird.
I’ve thought a lot about this (which probably says more about me than I realise) and I’ve decided that my inability to write as well on the road basically comes down to three reasons. (I should warn you that one of these reasons is possibly – probably – a bit mad.)
1. I don’t like working with headphones on.
It’s not impossible for me to write if I’m listening to music – I wrote a lot of Never Coming Back listening to Brian Eno, because due to a house refurb, my office was the living room – but the music has to have zero words (hence Brian Eno), and it has to have the ability to completely fade into the background. Ideally, though, I prefer to write without any music, in monasterial silence, and that’s impossible even in a library. (Library sounds: whispering, the tap of keyboards, the faint sound of other people’s music, children crying.)
2. I prefer working on a desktop computer.
I’m very lucky, because I have both a desktop Mac and a Macbook (which I’m using to write this). Here’s where it gets a bit odd, though: I find it relatively easy to write things like this on my laptop, but the books themselves, not so much. I’m not sure why it is, but whenever I’ve taken the latest Raker novel out on the road, to a café or to the library, or on the train to an event, what I come out with on the other side is almost always rubbish. (I’ll fill in the joke for you here: “Do you write all your books on your laptop, then, Tim?”) I get stuff down, I just don’t get through as many words. And then, as soon as I get back at my desk, things go better. I guess a part of it comes down to the fact that I like to have multiple windows open at the same time – the manuscript, my notes, research, etc – something you can’t really do on a laptop… unless you’ve got one of the mega-laptops that look like they’ve been ripped from a space shuttle control panel, which kind of defeats the idea of having a portable computer, I think. (Also, on the subject of the multiple windows thing: this is where some people will be screaming, “Scrivener!” See below.) Most of it, however, is just because… well, because. It just feels better at my desk.
3. I can only write in Microsoft Word.
It’s not because I think Word is an awesome programme, and I love the guys at Microsoft. I mean, I’m sure the guys at Microsoft are really nice, and, actually, I find Word quite frustrating and limited in a lot of ways. But I’ve tried programmes like Scrivener (used by tons of writers) and, while I can see why it’s brilliant, and why it would be useful for me (especially in terms of compiling research and being able to very easily snap between that and the manuscript), I just found it too big and daunting, and ended up spending most of my time trying to remember what went where. I suppose this shouldn’t really affect my ability (or inability) to write on the road, as Word is arguably easier to get up and running on a small laptop than Scrivener is, but it’s just another weird Weaver quirk, and I guess my point is that, using Word, at home, on my desktop computer, without headphones, is all part of the reason why I generally work from my office.
Anyway, now you can see what an oddball I am. Oh, and why getting out on the road – without my laptop (or, at least, without having to continue writing my novel on the laptop) – is something I really look forward to. It’s especially timely at this point, because Raker #7 (which is finished in the “I’ve finished a new draft of it!” sense, rather than the “It’s ready to be published!” sense) was AN ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE FROM BEGINNING TO END. Regular readers of this page may have heard me say similar things about my books in the past*, but any previous trials were like scaling a sandcastle compared to the Everest of Doubt and Fear that Raker #7 was.
* Vanished and Never Coming Back also ranked highly on the nightmare scale.
Why was it so bad? I don’t know. For some reason, it was just incredibly hard to write, and a consequence was that I found myself tied to my desk pretty much all the way through August and September (in order to finish the teeth-pullingly hard last quarter of it), and then again – once my editor got his first set of notes back to me – through December and January (in order to complete an XXXL-sized edit). Dealing with a 45-minute delay outside Didcot Parkway, which is what’s happening right now, is actually enjoyable in comparison.
Will it be worth it, though? I really hope so. Part of the reason for heading up to London today is to see what my editor made of the latest draft. If he hates it, then I’ll be the guy in the corner of the pub opposite Penguin’s offices, with his face flat to the bar, drunk on Diet Coke and bags of pork scratchings. If he likes it, hopefully I can start to talk a little more about it over the coming weeks and months. Trying to be objective about something you've spent 10 months toiling over is extremely difficult, but I think there’s some good stuff in there. Maybe. But it’s still a little rough around the edges, and – as seems always to be the case with me – hugely overwritten.
Of course, one way to ensure I don’t keep overwriting would be to write an entire novel on my laptop… but we won’t get into that.
P.S. Since the last blog, I've read:
The Confabulist by Steven Galloway
So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries by Jon Ronson
Someone Else's Skin by Sarah Hilary
The Calling of the Grave by Simon Beckett
Slade House by David Mitchell
Wytches Vol. 1 by Scott Snyder and Jock
The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
Author of the David Raker novels