Writing a novel: taking myself away for a week

A recent article in The Guardian caused some controversy by suggesting that writing is an elite activity because it requires two things: time and space. Of course, both those things will often require money, meaning that as Lynn Steger Strong suggests, you can only be a writer if you can afford it.

I’m not saying that you can’t write a novel while working a full-time job and raising a family, etc. because I know it’s been done and is being done by writers all over the world at this very moment. But there is certainly something true about the fact that this combination of time and space is considered a luxury that many of us seek in order to really fully immerse ourselves in our work.

The article really got me thinking about my own situation and how, as a child-less part-timer, I am in such a brilliant position to have the time and space to dedicate to my writing. I feel incredibly fortunate to be working four days a week while finishing my Creative Writing MA, and that my partner is able to support me while I do this. Of course, we’ll have to see what happens when my MA finishes in September, but just thinking about it (checking my privilege) has really reinvigorated my enthusiasm and made me realise that I have to fully make the most of the time that I have, while I still can.

Talking about time and space, a couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to have a week’s holiday in Aviemore, a small town in the the Scottish Cairngorms. I had set aside this week to start writing my new novel and came away at the end of the week with 18 and a half thousand words, a clearer idea of what I wanted my novel to be, and a loss of where I wanted it to go. It was definitely an intense week!

As mentioned before, I am definitely not a planner when it comes to my writing, so I set off writing my new novel the only way I know how: not in chronological order and writing the bits/moments that I was most excited about. Fortunately, the structure of my novel means that I will be able to move things about quite easily, I hope, so I’m not too worried about getting everything in the right order straight away. I find it easier to write what I enjoy first, piece together and then see where the gaps are.

The whole week was brilliant and I found the combination of sharp bursts of writing followed by a wholesome snowy walk to be so useful for my creative energy. It’s such a nice feeling to be so completely invested in a piece, that you can’t really stop thinking about it. And I find those moments – when I closed my laptop for the day, or when I headed out to get some fresh air – the moments when I had an idea for the perfect turn of phrase or how a scene would go. And then I would have to start frantically writing again.

Since coming back from Scotland, I haven’t had too much time to look back on what I’ve written (probably for the best!), but I am going to try to keep it all ticking along – even if it’s only pondering in the back of my mind. I know it will be difficult to keep up momentum on this project, especially as I have lots of other writing and dissertation research to be getting on with, but I hope that by keeping it tucked into the corner of my mind, I’ll be able to make slow but sure progress throughout the year.

Writing also needs space. So the short concentrated bursts of activity will be balanced out by the time to think things through and come back with fresh eyes.

I’m aware that a week’s worth of writing in the Scottish Highlands is definitely a luxury and I like to think of it as a self-organised personal writing retreat. It’s not something I’ll be able to do very often, but I’ll definitely look back on it as a time when all that mattered was my writing (and what biscuits I was next going to eat). Until next time, I’ll have to go back to writing it in the evenings and at weekends. It’s all about balance!

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