My favourite writing spot is the kitchen table, with the glazed double kitchen door open to the garden, and our dog lazing on the step, watching birds on the feeders and our tom cat stalking them. It’s a central spot, a crossroads of work & life where the two can meet and sort out the day’s demands on my time and mental space.
Our kitchen is full of morning light, and also lit by ceiling lamps which imitate sunshine when it’s dull. Sitting at the table – which is from IKEA, clean, modern, waxed oak – I keep half an eye on the cat, and help the dog chase him off if his hunt looks set to be successful.
The kitchen table is also big enough for me to spread out the A2 sheets of paper I use for plotting. I weigh them down with coasters and coffee mugs, and sketch mind maps and constellations of characters. On the reverse side, I chart structural turning points: epiphanies, crises and climaxes, brainstorming options for each.
The Main Dramatic Question for a work-in-progress is written in the bottom left-hand corner, along with two core questions for my protagonist: what one thing will make them succeed? And what one thing could make them fail?
These three questions will be scored out and rewritten time and again during the course of writing a story, and if the paper plan becomes too messy, I start over. It’s a non-linear, iterative process. Fluid & flexible. Unlike typing, which is constricted & constraining.
When writing, either on the laptop or paper, I don’t have particular rituals or object fetishes, though I do love beautiful hard-back notebooks. Occasionally, I wonder if I rented an even more remote cottage without electricity for a month or two I might be able to get the bones of a story down on paper without the endless editing that has become a tiresome and time-consuming habit when working digitally.
Now, nearing midwinter, the kitchen table has been reclaimed for Christmas decorations and planned family dinners, and the kitchen door is shut against the north wind, which slams hail and sleet off Dartmoor against the house.
Banished upstairs to the office in the spare room, I can still hear the sparrows squabbling and the hoots of collared doves. I can even see the moor and a wider sky. But it’s not the same. This isn’t a place to day-dream; the spare room doesn’t feel like the heart of anything.
And the work-in-progress? Well, there’s always next year. Happy Christmas, everyone.
This blog first appeared on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, the blogging site of the Scattered Authors’ Society on December 15th, 2017.