Writing life

Lisa Jewell

For author Lisa Jewell, writing a book comes in three increasingly stressed stages. She explains how it goes...


The relaxed stage

There are three distinct stages to my writing process. The first stage is the “Aah, this is nice” stage, which runs from January to July. This is when I'm usually working on edits for the book I delivered in December and also trying to formulate the concept for the new book. 

I spend a lot of this time walking around and thinking and meeting friends for lunch and going on school trips and feeling terribly relaxed about everything. I don't really get into a writing routine until March or April, when I’ll write a few hundred words a day, often in a café in the morning after the school run.

I take the six weeks of the school summer holidays off because I'm pretty sure I'm not going to look back on my life one day and say: “Damn, I wish I hadn't spent so much time with my children.”

Time to get serious

The second writing stage, the “Right, enough fannying about, time to get serious” stage begins in September and really depends on how far I’d got before the holidays and what I think of the work in progress when I dust it off after six weeks away. 

Last year, I realised that everything I’d written before summer was horribly wrong and decided to start again, so my writing day was quite intense, to put it mildly. This year I returned to 35,000 words of a book that still seemed to be working, so I’ve slipped into a gentle routine of taking my youngest daughter to school, then going for a good long walk in one of three directions from her school, finding a café wherever I end up (I favour the anonymity of chain coffee shops) and sitting there until I’ve written 1,000 words. This can take anywhere from an hour to three hours. 

Then I walk home, via a supermarket, spend a couple of hours replying to emails, tidying the house, having lunch and mucking about on Facebook, then it’s time to collect my daughter again. 

My life becomes Groundhog Day

The third stage of writing is the “Shit shit shit” stage, which starts in late October with the stark realisation that I have to deliver my book in a matter of actual days. 

For me, the optimum circumstances for writing a book are those of stultifying routine. A week in which there is nothing in the diary is a week in which I know I will achieve my goals. During these last weeks of the writing process I need my life to run like Groundhog Day. So I cancel all non-essential engagements, say no to absolutely everything and look back with wild longing at the mellow days of January to September.

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