This quote by Ernest Hemingway has an element of truth, although I certainly don’t ‘write drunk’. What rings true for me, though, is that you don’t have to be fully ‘with it’ when getting the rough story down. It might be a matter of grabbing a few minutes between meetings or, in my case, while waiting to teach a class. Some of my better writing seems to happen when I am mulling a plot or ‘what’s next’ while trying to sleep. In this case, I have to put the light on, get up and type the inspiration, just in case I forget when I wake up in the morning.Or, I might overhear a conversation while out and about and need to jot a thought down, ready to take back to my computer to bring into the story. For my second novel, I also set aside regular, early morning times to write. And, in the most part, I have kept to this schedule, even if the word output varies. On a good day I will type up about 800-1200 words and, on a bad day, 400-500. But, even the bad days can be good writing!
However, the editing needs time and concentration, plus a critical analysis of words, sentence structure/length, etc. Therefore, Hemingway is right—it is best done while ‘sober’. Incidentally, Hemingway also has a cameo part in my new novel, when two ladies meet an old man on the Croatian coast in a bar in Dubrovnik—the kind of place that Hemingway would, I am sure, have enjoyed!
I wasn’t really envious – well, a little! A friend was now writing his 3rd book and I was struggling to make progress on my #2. But, I reassured myself, Rome wasn’t built in a day and, besides, mine was more technical – requiring considerable research. And, I had no research assistant! The funny thing was, although about half-way through novel two, I had the last chapter sorted. Then, smug, smug, I was sure that I had gone well past the middle when a word count (hate that tool) revealed that I had only completed 32,000 words. Dang it! Still, this wake-up shook me into being more disciplined and, I am proud to say, my writing has improved. I am now into a routine of morning writing, followed by a quick evening review. I also determine to try and keep my weekends free – in the same way as I did when teaching.
It was a great conversation with a colleague over a recent lunch. We had both studied Geography at university and he mentioned the value of being able to view the world through a geographer’s eyes – looking at the landscape and how it was formed. I suddenly realized that this training had helped me connect different events to help construct the background details for 3 WISE MEN. Here is one example:
My wife and I were enjoying a late lunch in a piazza in Florence when we noticed a priest hurrying past. I could not resist a picture (below). When constructing details for the wider plot, it occurred to me that this innocent priest might play an important part.
“I had just left the Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, and was crossing the piazza outside the church when a priest approached me. He was obviously in a hurry as his cassock was waving wildly behind him. When he reached me, he paused and whispered, ‘I must see you urgently at the Statue of David at 7 o’clock tonight. Be there!’ Then he took off, heading for the hotel nearby. I was taken by surprise.” [extract, pg 192]
I am sure that readers will be equally surprised when they discover what the priest wanted to say to Pierre when he met him at The Statue of David!