Thursday, 4 August 2011

Writing in public spaces

I read an interview with Stephen King the other day. It's obvious, simply from counting the number of books he's written, as well as the insight of On Writing, that he works compulsively hard. But the comment that surprised me was when he admitted taking editing to a ball game.

Now, I know nothing about 'ball games' - other than the clips seen on films or TV. They always seem to include a lot of nailbiting and cheering and people carrying large cups of coca cola. And sometimes people climb over each other in the stands, or miss the action because they are too busy kissing. So tell me - do they have plenty of pausing spaces - spaces where it is possible to divert thinking from the ball game (Stephen King is, apparently, passionate about the red sox) and re-immerse oneself in something written? How does he do that? Allow his brain to be so involved in two such disparate things?

I do write in public - especially when I'm travelling. When I'm away I write anywhere - my diary overflowing with the tiniest details of bus stops and train stations, cafes, hotel rooms, corners of parks, by rivers, watching the sea. How else to record the mayhem around me - the goat giving birth on the ghats at Varanasi; the smell of Germolene in a hostel room in Kuala Lumpur. I even wrote in the back row of Sydney Opera House, after the first half of Rigoletto; a man from Glasgow climbed up to me to ask what the acoustics were like up there. By the time he'd gone I had just five minutes to scribble my thoughts on our conversation, Rigoletto, and the Opera House itself. But it had to be done.

When I'm at home my little notebook nourishes passing thoughts. Ideas for stories (rubbish, mostly); overheard conversations; incongruities. And I read - on buses and trains, in cafes. (I don't read on buses and trains when I'm travelling - there's so much going on out of the windows, and I don't want to miss anything!)

But editing? At a ball game? Surely that requires a very different headspace. If I'm writing when I'm out and about I write about what I see. And I read if I'm somewhere predictable, and can bury my head in a book for a while - not dipping in and out of it. Maybe it's me - and I need an editing space. But you - can you take editing to the ball game?


  1. The only possible explanation I can offer is that Mr King has been doing this a very long time. Something that he does as a matter of routine would have a very different headspace to the rest of us if we were to attempt it. For editing what I have written, I need peace. Even pets hassling for cuddles or games drive me nuts when I am editing.

  2. Phew - I was beginning to think it was just me that can't multitask - especially when it comes to editing.