Yes and no. Things have changed.
When I launched into writing A Mighty Dawn I was a bachelor living alone in a spider-invested cottage in Norfolk. This may not have done much for my social life but it worked wonders for my wordcount. I am a painfully early riser so I got into a routine of writing sometimes from 5.30am until I had either written two thousand words or, if I was on a roll, I would keep going until about 2pm, whichever was later. Do this often enough and you’ve soon bashed out a few hundred thousand words
(not all of them good).
But as they say, first drafts don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be written.
Mostly I write straight onto my laptop, but often when I get stuck I revert to pen and paper – sometimes on foolscap, which can be best of all. I find that medium much more liberating when I really hit a blank, or else I’m focusing mainly on dialogue and the interaction between two or three characters in a scene. The scenes that I find most difficult to write are undoubtedly fight scenes, which require a lot of quite detailed thought about how the combat should be choreographed and then best described. Sometimes it seems to work brilliantly. Other times, not at all, meaning I have to go over a scene again and again until it makes sense.
My wonderfully productive regime went out the window – not with getting married, nor even with getting a dog, but with having a newborn baby, which is quite the challenge to a writer’s productivity, it turns out. Of course, fatherhood’s pros far outweigh its cons, I hasten to add. But it has meant I have had to rethink how to be most efficient about getting words on the page. Early mornings are still best, if I have the energy to rise even earlier, but usually my daughter wakes early too and then looking after her takes over. I might get another couple of hours later in the day so I try to make time at the desk count. There is a lot more thinking about the story and each scene while I go about the other things in my day. And when I do sit down to write, I don’t think too hard about what I’m writing. I thrash it out in short bursts and fix it when I go over it the following morning.
With the writing of A Burning Sea came even more challenges as daughter number two hoved into view and Talitha, my eldest, became ever more full of energy. My top writing tip in passing - when attempting to write epic historical fiction, embark on relocation and/or procreation at your peril.
Still, what is life without the chaos?
My wife is also a writer, of plays and dissertations in her case. Between us, we know we could do with working out a tighter routine. “Kick, bollock and scramble” works up to a point, but is probably not an advisable long-term strategy.