September 15, 2015

Life in England: My Writing Habits

People have asked me from time to time how I get my writing done. If you’re a writer yourself, you inevitably understand how hard that can be to do sometimes. In truth, it’s coming up to three years since I moved to England, and I am still refining my work habits. The hardest thing for me has been that I don’t write all the time. Because my books are always a mixture of written word and photographs, it tends to be that I write for a few weeks and then I research the illustrations for a while and then go back to writing. Then I finish the writing for the book and I am editing, making corrections, placing photographs in the text, etc. It’s not like writing a novel where I would be mostly writing consistently throughout the process. Interspersed with book writing are articles I occasionally write for magazines and my blog posts (not that I have done much of that in the last year!). So, I usually have some form of writing in my life but it’s kind of all over the place.

Even though I have yet to establish a regular writing routine per se (who knows if I ever will?!?), I have pretty much figured out how to get the work done when I need to. The following are the ways I know that I can get my writing done in my every day routine.

1. Wake up at 5:30am and write until 7am (when I have to get Zach up for school). Some weeks this is all the daily writing I do, but I do it every single weekday, and I have found that I am remarkably efficient at this hour of the morning. It’s not easy to get out of bed that early, but once I do I go straight to the kitchen for coffee and then take it back upstairs to my bed with my laptop. Christopher has grumbled from time to time about the tapping of keyboard buttons while he’s trying to sleep, but I love to feel cozy with my coffee and my duvet while I’m writing.

Working on my Always Pack a Party Dress manuscript in bed early one morning.

Working on my Always Pack a Party Dress manuscript in bed early one morning.

2. Go to Oxford for the day. Zach goes to school 45 minutes away from our house, but only 15 minutes from Oxford. I first started spending days in Oxford to reduce the school run, and it has added great quality to my life here. I start the day at the Turl Street Cafe where they have a great latte, a help yourself/eat all you want toast bar (the best thing on Earth!) and lovely old farmhouse furniture. Over my breakfast I get any nagging admin out of the way, and then I start into my writing. I take a break for lunch around noon and then I walk around the corner to the Bodleian Library for more quiet and focused work in the afternoon. The Duke Humphries library in the Bodleian was built in the TK century and requires a four-page application to explain why you feel you need to be there to do your writing. In my case I made a two page list of books they had about British countryside culture and fashion that couldn’t be found elsewhere, I included my book contracts from Penguin and wrote a brief synopsis of my next book. Writing in the Duke Humphries makes me take myself very seriously. I am usually surrounded by older men or studious looking women whom I assume are writing their PhD thesis on some highly intellectual matter while I sit nearby writing about fashion and cooking and country life, trying to catch the vibe of their intelligence through sheer proximity. After picking up Zach its lovely to head home to the farm and Christopher having missed both during my day in the city.

Where I get my coffee and toast at the Turl Street Café in Oxford before starting my writing.

Where I get my coffee and toast at the Turl Street Café in Oxford before starting my writing.

The lovely atmosphere where I get down to work at the Turl Street Café in Oxford.

The lovely atmosphere where I get down to work at the Turl Street Café in Oxford.

You’re not actually allowed to sit at these carols at the Duke Humphries Library in the oldest part of Bodleian, but I always admire them on my way to my writing desk.

You’re not actually allowed to sit at these carols at the Duke Humphries Library in the oldest part of Bodleian, but I always admire them on my way to my writing desk.

I recently discovered these little desk cubbies on the balcony above the main library in the Duke Humphries. There are four of them and if one is available I always take it. I’m alone enough to focus but can see the others working below. You can hear a pin drop in this room. No one speaks. Ever.

I recently discovered these little desk cubbies on the balcony above the main library in the Duke Humphries. There are four of them and if one is available I always take it. I’m alone enough to focus but can see the others working below. You can hear a pin drop in this room. No one speaks. Ever.

My charming view leaving the Bodleian at dusk. The whole experience of writing in Oxford brings me pleasure, least of which is the feeling of getting so much work done.

My charming view leaving the Bodleian at dusk. The whole experience of writing in Oxford brings me pleasure, least of which is the feeling of getting so much work done.

3. Sometimes I have no choice but to get my writing done in the middle of the day at home. This is not my first choice – too many distractions! – but I have found that either being in my office with my entire desk cleared off (and any admin out of sight) can work, or, mostly in winter, I set myself up next to the fire in the sitting room, cozy in a big armchair with a cup of tea within reach. I like to feel settled when I write – happy to be where I am and have everything I need.

My at-home office in an old garden shed on the farm. It has to be this tidy for me to concentrate. Actually I prefer it even tidier, with nothing on the desk but my laptop.

My at-home office in an old garden shed on the farm. It has to be this tidy for me to concentrate. Actually I prefer it even tidier, with nothing on the desk but my laptop.

The chair on the left is my winter writing perch in the sitting room at home.

The chair on the left is my winter writing perch in the sitting room at home.

4. Whenever I have A LOT of writing to do or am intimidated by starting a new project, or – most commonly – that I have not been getting enough done at home and need to play catch-up, I take myself off on a 2 or 3 day writing retreat. There’s the Village Pub in Bibury, one of the most beautiful and quintessentially “English” towns in Oxfordshire, where the rooms are reasonable, the food is good and the chairs next to the fireplace are perfect for writing. Usually my friend Rose comes to keep me company and my days go like this: Wakeup, write, breakfast with Rose, write, lunch, write, walk in the country with Rose, early supper with Rose, watch TV, bed. Or sometimes my friend Bella who is also a writer will host a writer’s retreat at her house 20 minutes away from mine. There I’m on the same schedule and get a crazy amount of writing done. These getaways are the only times when I can write in a focused way throughout the day – away from house chores, wife and mom duty, making meals, etc. Heaven!

Yet again the cozy chair by the fire is the place I prefer to have breakfast and then spend the morning writing at the Village Pub in Bibury.

Yet again the cozy chair by the fire is the place I prefer to have breakfast and then spend the morning writing at the Village Pub in Barnsley, near Bibury.

In the afternoons in Bibury, I like to go across the street to Barnsley House hotel for tea and a change of scenery.

In the afternoons in Barnsley, I like to go across the street to Barnsley House hotel for tea and a change of scenery.

 

 

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[…] seriously…this only reinforces my belief that I was born to live in the English countryside. That library? That […]

MaryMargaret
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MaryMargaret
2 years 1 month ago

I love reading about your writing habits. It may not seem like a disciplined approach, but it is! So glad you have found a way to make it work for you. I also love the thought of applying for a library spot (and working in the quietest place ever) — you made the cut!

Bryony Angell
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Bryony Angell
2 years 1 month ago

I died and went to heaven reading this! I love reading about where and how writers and artists (who are also mothers) get work done. The idea of a self-made retreat is genius, I’m gonna try that. May your routine continue to sustain and inspire you, it sure sounds just about perfect to me!

Calum
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2 years 1 month ago

Nice insight into a part of your life, with lovely photos. That library looks amazing!

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