It was this photograph which started us off. This is Roald Dahl’s writing hut, where he wrote every day for four hours (10 am to noon; 4 pm to 6 pm).
Where do our writers write, we wondered. Home or outside? Are there public spaces for writing? When do they write? Unlike Roald Dahl, who lived on his writing, most of our writers have to have day jobs.
We asked the Duckbill authors and their replies were so interesting that we decided to start a new series.
Meera Nair, author of Maya Saves the Day
I write in the morning, before the day catches up with me. I wake around 5 a.m. and steal quietly through the gloom to the living room, avoiding certain floorboards that tend to creak. The apartment is underwater, dimmed and shadowy, the rectangles of the windows pale gray. Outside my window, New York is still mercifully muted, except for the occasional garbage truck or walkers muttering endearments or commands to their dogs. I hear the birds waking up, sometimes a seagull’s high mewl, a complaint perhaps at being blown off its course to Coney Island or the Far Rockaway’s. I don’t brush my teeth or turn on the light. I don’t meander into the kitchen for morning chai or the newspaper, or switch on the radio, on anything else that will drag me back too abruptly from the strange places my brain wandered to in the night. I try and keep the spaces around me small, limit myself the seat of the sofa or the chair, the white square of a notebook or the computer.
I like writing with half my brain asleep, my thoughts still fuzzed and inchoate. Still elsewhere. My half-awake mind reels in strange things, odd bits from parts unknown, flotsam left behind by the night.
If there’ s a particular thing I’m working on I’ll turn on my beloved Mac Air and start where I left off, but there are times when I’m stuck, or fooling around and then I’ll write with a pen in a notebook. Writing in a notebook means I don’t censor, I don’t erase, I don’t start over. Instead it’s spew, blurt, spill, words and sentences scrawled across the page any how, the gimlet-eyed editor in me smothered by a cataract of right brain crazy.
Days later I’ll look over what I wrote in the notebook and be surprised by an idea, by the beginning of a story, by an image, wonder where that came from, how it got out. These first things that come to me in morning are always weird and wonderful, not always useable, but gifts from the depths that usually stay out of sight.
Sometimes, specially in the winter, I write in bed, propped up against the headboard, cocooned under the comforter, my Mac raised on a pillow on my lap.
Perhaps the reason I prefer private spaces, like a particular corner of the sofa, or my bed, is because to me writing is intimate, the act too revealing of who I am. I cannot write in public places, cafes or libraries, on the subway or in parks. I can’t write around strangers. I can’t bear to have people I don’t know look at my face while I’m composing or even thinking hard. Ok, so I’m nuts. I make faces, I frown, tear up at or laugh with my characters, feel intense compassion or teeth-clenching hatred for them and I don’t like strangers watching me do my thing.
Writing is solitary. Here’s your boat and the pen is your oar. I need the beach to be empty and quiet, the sands serene and unmarked, without tourists asking me to take a picture or boys selling me candy or the radio telling me that the icecaps are melting. I need to step in quietly, pick up my oar, plunge it in, go it alone out there on the waves and hope for a good catch.