Nine Questions

In this series Ink Sweat & Tears talks to practicing writers about their process and craft.

1. Where do you write? (do you have an office, room, bus or train journey that you find yourself and your writing? etc)

I do have an office but oddly I hardly ever write creatively there – it’s where the pc is and my brain associates it now with practical work. So if I have a day at home my favourite place to write is actually in bed – partly because I feel the cold but also it seems to put me in a more relaxed frame of mind than sitting at a desk. I also write on the bus journey to my day job in Norwich – many of the poems in my next collection were first dreamt up on the 588 Anglian Bus service. I try and get a seat near a window and put my ear plugs in and start scribbling – that seems to do the trick. Finally, I have high hopes of the summer house we took all summer to construct – it’s tiny, but I like the idea of a space away from the house and domestic distractions. All we need in there now is a source of heat!

2. How do you write? (into a notebook or straight onto a computer? etc)

I always write into a notebook. I need blank pages too, no lines – I like the sense of freedom that gives. My process seems to be to write a draft and then ‘talk’ to myself about it on the page – what’s working, what isn’t as I try and home in on the core of the poem. I have a tendency to try and finish things too quickly, tying everything up so it’s nice and neat. That’s why I don’t type up drafts until quite late in the day as it makes them look finished even if they’re not. When I’m not working on a draft I try and write a kind of loose journal entry – notes, observations, thoughts – just to keep my cogs oiled.

3. Roughly how much time do you spend each week on creative writing related activities?

(writing, editing, correspondence & submissions – give a daily average if possible)
On average I guess it’s about an hour and half a day, though there are phases where I don’t do much and other times when it’s a lot more. Half an hour of that would be on admin tasks – sending stuff out, responding to writing-related emails [answering questionnaires!] etc.

4. What time of day do you usually write?

My best time is in the morning, definitely. I’m not disciplined enough to rise at dawn, but on a day at home I like to get underway by 8am. The first couple of hours are crucial. Things go off the boil around lunchtime [is there any poet who writes best in the afternoon? I’ve never met one.] Then things improve again around dusk – I love being in the house on my own at that time of day. I find it conducive to mulling over ideas and the work done in the morning. I’m hopeless at night – I’d love to be one of those writers sat in a pool of light at 2am beavering away while the world sleeps – there’s something really alluring about that image, but I’ve never been able to function well late.

5. Do you set yourself a daily target for writing?

No – I suppose I try and check in to my creative process at least once a week, even if I’m really busy. It isn’t helpful to me to think in terms of output – how many poems this month etc. I’ve written at very different paces at different times and have learnt to trust that. As long as I’m making a regular space for the writing then I feel that poems will turn up eventually.

6. What does it feel like to write?

It depends what phase I’m in. The first rush of an idea and a draft can be nervily exciting – there’s the buzz as you realize you’re on to something that feels genuinely new and surprising, but, for me, also the agitation that comes with wondering whether I’ll be equal to expressing the idea, trying to pin it down on paper before it slips away. Then there’s the scratching the head, re-assessing phase – that can start off disappointing – oh, I didn’t get it right first time [why that realization still comes as a surprise I don’t know!]. But actually once it’s underway, I really like the re-drafting phase. It can be hugely absorbing and satisfying trying different approaches to make the poem come good. I’m accentuating the positive here – there are plenty of moments when writing makes me feel like a six year old who’s scribbled out the picture she’s been working on all day because it doesn’t look right.

7. Are there any stimuli that will usually trigger you into writing?

I find I need less stimuli not more. I need to be on my own and very still so I can start to listen. I don’t do formal meditation but it’s that shift into a more settled, observant state which seems to be a precursor to writing something.

8. Do you work in silence or have background noise? If you do have sounds, what are you listening to now?

Silence, definitely. Any noise is a real distraction. Hence the bus ear plugs. I love ear plugs, they should come free with your Poetry Society membership.

9. What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed quite an extensive redraft of my third collection so I’m actually lying fallow at the moment. That took a big creative push and though I’ve got a couple of ideas knocking around, my creative energies need time to recharge.

*Esther Morgan's third collection Grace, published by Bloodaxe, is due out in October 2011. She is an editor and historic recordings manager for The Poetry Archive. She currently lives in rural Norfolk where she's waiting for another new arrival – her first baby due in June.