Doing it in public

Back before he made it big, Lord Pratchett of Discworld used to bring his laptop to conventions and write, usually in the bar. He’d also find time to drink and socialise – he is, as you’ll know if you’ve ever met him, a lovely bloke and as witty in the flesh as he is in print – but if there was nothing else to grab his attention, there he’d be, writing. As a young wannabe, I used to think how cool that was, and how maybe one day I’d sit in con bars writing, and people would wonder (as I did when I stole glances at Uncle Terry) what works of genius were being created before their very eyes.

It turns out I can’t. Delicate little flower wot I am, I have to be alone, ideally with the right soundtrack, before I can extrude first draft, or perform significant restructuring on an existing story. It’s like the logical but incorrect belief of non-Westerners who’ve never seen a camera before and think it can steal their soul, or to put a more skiffy twist on it, the quantum foam of ideas collapses due to the observer effect. When I spot someone looking at me, the words go away.

This is odd, because I can copy-edit a finished story in public. I can also, as my previous posts imply, write notes in public. In fact, whilst in ‘first draft’ mode, scribbling down an idea/scene/plot twist is a sort of behavioral interrupt that can occur at any time. I’ve already mentioned doing it in restaurants (on the menu if necessary), and my usual plot walk has some well-leaned-on trees and bridges, including one tree I sometimes sit in with my feet dangling over the river. But it really can happen anywhere: I’ve scribbled notes between bouts of cooking (I have a rather alchemical approach to domestic science), whilst driving along the M40 (actually I dictated these, and Beloved wrote them, which was probably for the best) and leaning on the speakers in a nightclub at 4am (for some reason these notes turned out to be not entirely legible when I looked at them the next day). I can even write notes whilst talking, as the two activities appear to use different parts of my brain.

This is all well and good, but I really need to learn to actually write stories in public. Writing notes is a small part of the job, albeit a fun one. If the timing of a convention means I need to work during it, I’d prefer not to have to lock myself in my room. So, maybe one day I will be sighted emulating Sir Terry – not that I can begin to compare to him. If that happens, just make like I’m not there, OK?

3 Responses to Doing it in public

  1. hampshireflyer 28 January 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    I used to be able to write in public when I was still doing it in longhand, but can’t do it on a laptop at all. Something about the keyboard, and using both my hands at once and not holding a pen, puts me into ‘cabinet-maker doing difficult fiddly task at workbench’ mode and I’m much too likely to talk to myself….

    • Jaine Fenn 28 January 2010 at 11:00 pm #

      Ah yes, the muttering to oneself and giggling under one’s breath, I should have mentioned those anti-social writing habits. Of course you can probably get away with that sort of thing at an SF con.

    • Helen 29 January 2010 at 11:23 am #

      I find writing on trains and planes very soothing, and almost always more fun than the movie. Coffee shops are good too, but I think that’s mostly because while I’m writing I can’t eat more cake.

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