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  • Dave Butler

Wherefore Art Thou?

Following on the heels of Pam and Greg’s intriguing posts, I am often asked by readers and other writers about where I write.

For me, it’s all about consistency. I’ve always preferred to write in the same room (my upstairs study), where I try to keep things as simple and as free from distraction as possible. The desk is relatively clean, although the earlier I am in a novel and the more I’m still in the research phases, the less I’m able to keep it that way.

My desk has been in the same place in the study for 14 years. I’ve been wondering about moving so it looks out into the room, rather than at a wall. But it worries me that such a dramatic change might impact my creative process. So, it stays where it is, for now…

I like the same light in the room when I write, and the same sounds. I have a single desk lamp to the left of the laptop. It illuminates any notes from which I might be working, and it’s the only source of light in the room – at least until the sun shines through the east-facing window.

Yes, I do use a lap-top to write -- nothing fancy. And I use Word rather than Scrivener or any other such program. Because I’m also a photographer, I often wonder why we writers don’t get the same question that photographers get when they show their images (and they hear it more than you know…): “hey, that’s a great picture. What kind of camera do you use?” Can you imagine it? “Hey, Ian Rankin. I really enjoyed your latest Rebus novel. What kind of laptop do you use?”

Speaking of famous authors, I read somewhere that Stephen King writes while heavy metal rock pounds in the background. That might work for him (and it might partly explain some of his novels…), but I like it quiet. Even instrumentals can be distracting. What about you? I save the music for punctuating other tasks, once the writing is done.

When I sit at my desk to write, a small corkboard -- about 2 ft X 3 ft in size – hangs from the wall in front of me. There, I use an incredibly high-tech system called ‘multi-coloured recipe cards with push pins’ to track the next chapters of my novel-in-progress.

Today, there are eight cards staring down at me from the board. Four are pink, four blue (I know, what a cliché…); they’re tracking the progress of two characters in my fourth Jenny Willson novel (with the working title of ‘View to a Kill’). I only need look up to see what’s coming next. And best of all, if I decide to change the order of chapters, it’s two simple motions. One pin out, one pin in.

Once I’ve finished a chapter, the corresponding card comes off the board and the next chapters all move up one spot. In case you’re interested, I didn’t have to pay extra for this feature. It came standard with the corkboard.

If there are any younger readers of this blog, I’m sure they’re starting to wonder if – after I finish writing for the day – I grab my club, leave my cave, and head out to hunt and kill my breakfast. I’m not going to comment on that, other than to say that limestone is much better for hanging pictures than is granite.

Like most days, I have a geriatric cat on my lap today. She purrs and kneads on my leg, occasionally grabbing my arm with a paw to suggest a change in the plot direction. If things are going well, and the writing is smooth and flowing, she sticks with me. If I start to struggle, or if the cat thinks I’m making no sense, she drops to the floor and wanders off with an audible harrumph. She’s the first of many reviewers for each of my novels, and perhaps the most critical.

Morning tends to be my most productive time, so I get up at 5 am each day to write. After making a large cup of tea, and feeding the cat (who blinks at me in the darkness as if to say: “what the heck are you doing up at this time…?”), I sit down at the laptop and begin by reviewing the work I completed the day before. It’s a light edit at best, but it gets the creative juices flowing. If I’ve finished a chapter the day before, I will have tried to leave a few words, or a rough first sentence, as a clue as to how the next chapter should begin. I don’t always follow that, but it gives me a good kick-start, like a jolt of caffeine.

I’ve spoken to many writers, and it seems that everyone has their own special writing place. I’ve tried airports, hotel rooms, and even wooden decks overlooking oceans. However, none work as well as my quiet, inspiring study, lit by a single lamp, with an elderly cat critiquing my work.

For me, it’s all about consistency.

If you’re a writer, please share with us what works for you?

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