Writing life: Rachel Joyce

From dressing the part to taking frequent tea breaks, the prize-winning playwright and author outlines her writing day


The right shoes

Every writing day is different. There is no routine as such because I have a family but the moment I am alone, I write.

My favourite time of day is dawn – no question. I love the clarity and newness of it. But if I am in the thick of a book, I may be woken by words at 3am, say, and there’s nothing for it but to get up and write, while the family sleeps, and the night is all around me. (I am useless past 8.30pm. Never invite me to a dinner party.)

I try to dress well to write, especially if I feel low or unsure. When I was an actress, Margaret Tyzack once told me that it was very important to wear a good shoe in rehearsals; if you feel lost, it’s good to hear your feet, she said. And I know now what she meant; the clip-clop of a shoe can ground you. The irony is that we live in a house surrounded by mud and I work across the field in a caravan; I don’t so much clip-clop as plosh-plosh. But I still try to trick myself into believing I know what I am doing.

Steering clear of goals

Thank God I don’t smoke. I’d be looking for breaks all the time. Instead I drink coffee. In the afternoon I drink tea. In the evening I sip wine.

I use a laptop though I can’t really see what I have until I print it off and go through every word with a pencil. I have lots of goes at each section. Writing is a long and very slow process for me, of mistakes – endless mistakes – then refining and cutting and shifting words.

I never set goals. I don’t see the point. I don’t notice my daily word count. If I am having a bad day, I try to keep going. Maybe I jump ahead to another part of the book. Or I will take a walk and try to imagine I am the character in the scene. Sometimes I go to sit in a café, just to be part of people again, among strangers. To feel connected to what I don’t know.

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