After hearing the brilliant Contemporary Women’s Fiction discussion at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival I blogged about yesterday, I hared down the street to hear novelist Veronica Henry’s talk on Discipline, Displacement and Dipsomania.
Veronica – known to everyone as Ronnie – is well-placed to talk about the day-to-day reality of writing for a living. She lives in north Devon with her husband and three sons and for the last 20 years has combined her hectic family life with a hugely successful career as a scriptwriter and novelist. Her latest book, Marriage and Other Games, is out in paperback and her new one, The Long Weekend, will be published in July.
First of all, she told us, “writing is a business and you have to treat it as a business. It’s not just about floating around with a pen and a notebook.”
But how do you go about combining “creativity and real life?” Well, for a start, said Ronnie, you need “head space” - the time and space to get on with your writing. That means no distractions – no mobile phone, no TV, no internet. She sometimes negotiates three days away in a rented cottage or hotel by herself so that she can write without any interruptions. “Your productivity shoots up,” she said. “I can write 10,000 to 15,000 words in three days.”
Personal space is vital too. Ronnie writes on the dining table in her open-plan house and uses a Mac PowerBook. She backs everything up on Dropbox and has an inspiration board where she pins pictures of what her characters look like, where they live, even their wallpaper, and “a smallish library” (dictionary, thesaurus, book of names, brochures, index cards).
She also reckons writers have to be ultra-disciplined about how they manage their days. She works office hours and has a target of when she is going to finish a book – “a mental meter about where I am aiming to be.”
Ronnie mentioned a few apps she finds useful. Pomodoro (Italian for tomato!) is a timer that sits in the corner of your computer screen. Apparently 25 minutes is the perfect time to complete a task so Pomodoro sets the timer for 25 minutes and at the end of it you can allow yourself a five-minute break.
And what about Twitter? Ronnie agreed that on the one hand it’s “an amazing tool for writers” and “just like having all your mates in the room with you,” but there’s no doubt it’s a massive distraction too. It was news to me but there are apps available (Freedom is one) to stop you sneaking on to Facebook and Twitter.
When it comes to writer’s block, Ronnie told us that “everyone gets it, and if they say they don’t, they are lying.” Her strategies to combat it include going for a walk on the beach or taking a power nap. “Don’t let it paralyse you,” she declared.
Finally she had a word of warning about writers’ clothes. She confessed to wearing “skanky leggings, my brother’s old rugby shirt and a pair of tights to tie up my fringe” while she works. But, she said, “try and dress up sometimes. Treat yourself as a real person and dress for success.” Dress for success - my new mantra.