Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

Where do you WRITE?

The problem with writing in coffee shops is that everyone hates the kind of people who write in coffee shops—especially the kind of people who write in coffee shops. You see the guy in the corner hunched over his laptop and you think (forgetting, for the moment, that you are also hunched over a laptop): “For chrissake, get an office.” As someone who writes in coffee shops for a living, I have wrestled with this paradox for much of my adult life.
— Malcom Gladwell

A little while ago, I started a blog. Nothing fancy – an outdoor and adventure travel blog which allowed me to indulge my passion for words and my love of photography and apply them to my other major drive – the outdoors. As a consequence of that blog, I began to wonder if I could actually make a living out of writing. So I did what I always do, I read around the area. Eventually, I drafted some pitches to magazines and waited for the responses. Pitches are like query letters to agents – watching your email inbox doesn't do a whole hell of a lot for making them arrive any quicker and, in fact, most editors don't reply at all without a follow-up or a phone call. But, I digress.

One sunny morning I found myself in a Caffé Nero on More London, just off Tooley Street near London Bridge. I've never quite worked out who thought it would be a good idea to name a brand new swanky precinct area, just off the Thames, More London, but that's where I was. A russet dawn sun seeped through the branches of a tree overhanging a marble water feature and everything in my life felt warm and cosy. I had a MacBook Air – a tiny thing which weighs about as much as a goose feather – on the table in front of me, alongside a mug of steaming tea and a blueberry muffin. The gentle pattering noise to accompany the symphony of the early London morning was created by my fingers dancing across the keyboard. Words darted across the screen and I was truly happy. 

But it wasn't my job.

Writing, for so many of us, is not our primary source of income. Making the decision to leave behind a career and a steady income is a brave, perhaps even foolhardy, one. It's about following dreams and having faith. For me, I had a plan – get a career writing for magazines up and running then see if I could think about going full-time.

As I began to flex my fiction, as well as non-fiction muscles, I invested in Scrivener. This won't be news to you – so many writers use Scrivener for major projects that, frankly, it's the industry standard. I can't imagine being able to set out my beat sheets and outlines; define and draw my characters; conduct and marshall my research and then finally write that first draft without Scrivener. Using Scrivener, ideas flow from my mind like a waterfall.

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Okay, I admit it – there was no need for the waterfall shot, but it's one of mine and I like it. So do you, admit it.

I outline in Scrivener and I write in Scrivener and I use DropBox to sync between my MacBook Air and my iMac which sits on my desk back home.

But I don't get to spend a lot of time at home and I learned long ago that writing means hammering out words wherever you can, whenever you can. Set yourself a target is the advice and I do not dissent from it. My nominal target, on a (day-job) working day, is 1,000 words. On a full-day writing, it is a minimum of 3,000 but I count 5,000 as more of an achievement. I write quickly because I find my voice quickly – that which I have found in these early days at any rate.

I try to fit in some time after the boys go to bed and before my partner goes to bed. Not every night, but say two or three a week. I write in the morning before I get to work and I write at lunchtime. I used to think that my best work came at certain times and in certain places. It doesn't – it comes when I open up Scrivener. Because I have trained myself to believe that I don't need articles of faith to help me write. And I don't need to do it in specific places at specific times. I can do it anywhere, anytime, anyhow. Because I don't have the luxury of writing full-time. My only concession is that I genuinely like a mug of tea whilst I'm writing.

That's not to say I am not more effective at certain times of day and in certain places. Between 8am and noon, I am at my most creative and most productive. Then again, but perhaps not quite as much, between 7pm and 9pm. I find the rest of the time, my writing needs more editing than those times – largely because of the consistent period of writing I am able to undertake during those periods. An hour here and there and my stuff never flows as well as that which I've written when I've had two or more hours to spare. My ideal is my desk at home, on a 21" iMac. The size of the screen matters to me – I can see more at a glance as I structure (I like to Save Cats, but more on the crossover between novels and screenplays in another post). And I like my desk – it feels like I'm putting my game face on. And I like a mouse rather than a touchpad (a throwback from processing photographs).

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But I've written in all sorts of places over the last couple of years I've been writing features and fiction. Toilets (sometimes, you get an idea and it just can't wait); my work desk; courtrooms; shops; cafés (very much a favourite of mine); park benches; the pavement; tubes and trains; standing and sitting – I'll boot up and start writing anywhere I can because when you get a great scene, or even beat, in your head you need to get it down. Sometimes, it turns out to be a darling and murder is the only justice for it. But sometimes it turns out to be a game changer.

The Elephant House in Edinburgh was made famous as the place of inspiration to writers such as J.K. Rowling, who sat writing much of her early novels in the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle. Ian Rankin, author of the bestselling Rebus novels, and Alexander McCall-Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency and other series of novels, have also frequented The Elephant House, as well as many others throughout the years. Flux wrote a nice article on the Elephant House. Malcolm Gladwell, wrote a great article on the phenomenon (or addiction) writers have to the romantic notion of writing a novel in a café. Hence the quote at the start of this post. Guess Malcolm and I are both jerks.

So where do you write, and why?


All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015