Claire King


Gone Fishing

Posted on: September 16th, 2010 by Claire - 11 Comments

I realised today that most of the thinking that went into formulating the plot and characters of my last novel took place years ago, before my brain was hijacked by small people (children, not pixies). In the Before Time I would walk in the mountains for miles and miles every day, letting ideas float in and out, picking up a few of them and playing with them as I walked. I would usually get home with a couple of well developed ideas or images as well as a few random phrases or questions to jot down and pick up later.

I finally sat down to write the novel at the end of last year. I wrote when the children were sleeping (by which time my brain was usually quite frazzled), and on trains on the way to my day job (when I was also trying to get my head around the complicated problems I had to help people tackle when I got there). I was lucky to average a quality hour of writing a day. But as you will know, the hours quickly add up. And all that thinking time and note taking and upfront preparation was a great springboard into the first draft.

This summer, with the submission packages posted and the waiting game begun, I started to think about my next novel. As per my recent routine I used the kids sleeping time (in the summer holidays, this is slim pickings indeed) but despite my very scenic garret my thoughts seemed hemmed in. Where was the spark of creativity?  I decided that I was just too tired by the time the house went quiet. I should try during the day. Big mistake (I already knew this, I blogged about it here). I found myself actually using the phrase ‘I can’t hear myself think!’

Thank goodness, then, for ‘La rentrée des classes’. This month my youngest started école maternelle. The first thing I did with my rediscovered me-time wasn’t sit down to write solidly all morning, but to take my dog yomps back up with a vengeance. That’s an hour an a half, four times a week, with no-one to talk to, just tromping around the scenery and thinking thoughts. And oh, the thoughts you can think when no-one needs your urgent attention.

I had forgotten how much my brain needed airing. All of this exercise and time to think is doing me and Novel #2 the power of good.

I do know I’m lucky to have the mountains to yomp in, and a sporadic day job that allows me my yomping time. So I’m curious, how do you fit it in? Do you have distinct thinking time when you are not actually putting pen to  paper? How does it work for you?

11 Responses

  1. Kerry says:

    Oh, this is excellent. I too used to walk all the time, and come home so bursting with ideas I couldn’t get them down fast enough. So much smarter than starting blankly at the screen for hours when your brain is empty. I suddenly think I am due for a hike.

  2. Martha says:

    Just spent the day galloping round trying to catch my dog, shrieking ‘sorry’ to strangers and picking poo up with flimsy plastic bags. Now going back to curling up in foetal position with my face wrapped around 200g chocolate and a big, fat scotch. #inspiredbycalories

  3. Martha says:

    ‘Around’. what happened to my ‘a’? Gone the same place as my dog?

  4. This is so true. Here in Edinburgh, it is wonderful to get the city back after the festival and start walking again. This afternoon I walked across the Meadows and it was amazing how things in my work in progress fell into place.

    Lovely inspiring piece, and I too would like to be a glamorous girl fishing on a rock.

  5. Alison Wells says:

    Absolutely. I haven’t been writing much lately, mostly due to family pressures and am hoping to outline a novel VERY shortly but my instinct is to just lay off altogether, to hang out, walk, relax, it makes sense. I know the ideas are swimming around in the brain and that good ideas come in the quieter moments. Very important advice, well said.

  6. Marcus Speh says:

    great post, claire and so timely. just this morning i lay under the bed covers awake my eyes closed and let my thoughts roam freely-. i only do this at the weekends when we stay overnight in our country home. otherwise i do my thinking in the car or on the bike and though i know what you’re saying is true and have known it for some time, i am always just as surprised when a breakthrough in plot, character, setting, scene etc. comes only because i’ve broken my routine and let a thought enter in. rilke’s “panther” comes to mind – without the drama that one may read into these lines and with a different ending: the image isn’t “gone”, it’s been used…

    His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
    has grown so weary that it cannot hold
    anything else. It seems to him there are
    a thousand bars, and behind the bars, no world.

    As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
    the movement of his powerful soft strides
    is like a ritual dance around a center
    in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

    Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
    lifts, quietly. An image enters in,
    rushes down through the tense, arrested muscles,
    plunges into the heart and is gone.

    (transl. stephen mitchell)

  7. I liked this post. This is going to go off topic slightly, but bear with me. My spare time is pretty scarce. A number of years back (coincided with the birth of my first child) I realised I hadn’t read a single book the entire year. I knew I’d soon crack up if I didn’t do something other than work and look after small child/ren, despite how much I loved him/them. So I stopped reading the Metro (free newspaper on the bus) and started reading the numerous books on my bookshelves. I was getting through 4 or 5 decent sizes books a month. All from a 20 minute journey in the morning, same again after work and a 30 minute lunch. After a couple if years I decided i wanted more so I applied to do an MLitt in Modern Scottish Writing and was accepted. Unfortunately I didn’t get a bursary so I had to withdraw. The reading continued. Fast forward to the start of this year and the purchase of an iPhone. The reading (novels) pretty much stopped. However Twitter has introduced me to a virtual peer network with so many people putting themselves and their work out there. Putting so much time and energy into independent magazines, small press collections and chapbooks and blogs etc. I don’t have the time to even scratch the surface but it’s inspirational stuff. So now my hour plus in three parts is spent on my phone. Being introduced to folk doing it, me reading it and now I’m writing – all on my phone – because it’s always there. I try to keep reading/writing time in the evening part until after my partner has gone to bed, otherwise we probably wouldn’t get a chance to have adult conversation! Anyway these condensed moments are enough for me… so long as you folks out there keep ip the good work!

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