Getting Down to Business

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Recently I visited the house where Jane Austen wrote most of her books. It was a fascinating glimpse into the life of a literary giant, and it brought home just how much she wrote what she knew. Her heroines are nearly all named after members of her extended family, and many of the issues that she wrote about (being poor with rich relations, or being in love with the wrong man, for example) are drawn directly from her own experiences.

What was really telling, though, was the lifestyle she led. Every morning she would sit at this tiny little table by a window that looked out into her own back garden and write for hours. The afternoon consisted of walks and chores. The evening was when the family gathered to talk about what had happened during their day. If anything.

Seriously, how did women not go absolutely spare with boredom back then? Austen was great at writing in part because she dedicated time to it and had nothing else to distract her. This is the curse and benefit of the modern age – we can do so much more, but it means we DO do so much more. Writing time is a precious and rare commodity, and even when we have some it’s devastatingly easy not to use it properly. As Miss Ju once commented, ‘I sat down to work on my book and ooh, lolcats.’

The vice of Procrastination is a popular and insidious one. There’s tons of quotes about how anyone can achieve anything, provided it’s not what they’re supposed to be doing at that moment. Writing takes way more self-discipline than many people realise, and the art of self-deception is highly developed. Even with productivity hour, I can sit down to work and spend it looking for pictures of the actor I would like to play the hero in the film version (Benedict Cumberbatch) or researching training regimes in the Roman army. Or being struck by a brilliant idea for a scene in the sequel which demands to be written right now. That’s worse because you then have two stories clamouring for attention, and risk rushing the first one to get to the second.

I recently got ambushed on the train by the narrator of my sequel, who walked into my head fully formed and demanded in no uncertain terms that I give her some room. It’s awesome when that happens because you have this incredible character who really excites you and has a life of its own. It’s also a problem because I have to largely ignore her until the first book is done. And she really doesn’t like that.

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