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Comment from the book world in June 2018

June 2018

'Cold concentrates the mind'

11 June 2018

‘"I'm writing a book." The very phrase seems self-indulgent and strange, more so at a time when we count the words and minutes, even the characters and the seconds. In popular myth, the writer is a mercurial figure, and when I started writing I assumed that the process would consist of long periods of staring at a flashing cursor interrupted by flashes of inspiration which would keep me at the keyboard for 50,000 words. Having heard about all those writers' retreats for novelists, I also assumed that it would help to have a beautiful view to look at. All wrong. In any case, historians don't get retreats, though we do get a muse, Clio. Writing needs routine. I carve out blocks of at least three to five days.

The best writing happens between nine and noon, after plenty of sleep. In the days before starting I often find myself writing in my head, and I am as sure as I can be that similar preparatory work occurs while I am unconscious. My daily target is 2,500 words. I always try to stop in mid flow, knowing what I should start with the following day. But I don't have the discipline. I run on well past my daily target, only to spend most of the next morning staring at the cursor flashing. Surroundings don't matter, although I often seem to write in a room (or, at the moment, a shed) which is so cold I wear a ski jacket and wrap a rug round my legs. Cold concentrates the mind.'

Jonathan Conlin, author of Tales of Two Cities, Evolution and the Victorians and four other books, in agent Andrew Lownie's excellent archive http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/2014/10/22/how-i-write