How I write … Immanuel Mifsud
by Marie BenoÎt
Mostly I write at night. I sleep very little – four hours is my normal sleep time, usually 2am to 6am – a habit I developed back in my student years. I like to work in silence save for the ticking of a clock. Otherwise, no music, no nothing. My writing and reading habits run parallel to each other: I can’t read or write if not in my room. I cannot stick to reading one book at a time, and the same goes with writing. I am usually writing more than one thing at a time because I get very easily bored with whatever I’m working on. Sometimes this is carried to an extreme where I have more than one file open on my laptop and I alternate between one text and another. I work directly on my laptop, but before owning a computer I used to write everything on blank sheets (I hate ruled writing pads), always using a fountain pen (since I also hate ball point pens). Until a few years ago smoking was a must, and could not imagine myself writing without chain-smoking the night through. But that has changed and it didn’t really matter, if anything my room does not have that repulsive smell of tobacco ash any more.
Usually I don’t have a clear subject in mind except when I’m working on some commissioned work. I start writing and then, when I finally realise what I’m writing about, I start researching my subject. Research takes a good part of the writing process, and it could vary from background reading to asking questions. The hardest thing I find when writing a story is choosing its ending, since normally I come up with two, three or even four alternatives. It takes me ages to decide and more than once it’s happened that after the story is published I regret my choice. I also find it difficult to find a title. I am also very careful with the names I give to my characters, which I change some four times during the course of writing the story.
There are stories, which have really drained me emotionally. Zerafa from my book Kimika is one such example, and I was only too happy to type the final full stop. Whenever I write a “difficult” story, I have to have an antidote to recover from it, and usually I find solace in writing children’s stuff, which is not necessarily more innocent, but definitely more enjoyable.
Writing poetry is a totally different story. I usually write poems when I’m travelling, even if what I write has nothing to do with the place I’m visiting. I scribble poems on a small Moleskine blank-paged notebook (yes, I’m vain!) which I carry when I travel. Many poems were written at airports, on trains, at train stations (which are a huge attraction for me), on bridges, on river banks, or in squares. Old city centres are perfect settings for writing poetry. Prague’s Charles Bridge and the main train station have proved to be sure sources of inspiration time and time again; so have Alexanderplatz and Berlin Hauptbanhof and also Krakov’s Market Square. I feel extremely lonely in these places, so I find it easier to write. Never on aeroplanes though because my extreme fear of flying let’s me do nothing except stare at the hanging monitors and glance at my watch every two minutes.
While I spend a lot of time going over and correcting my stories, this is hardly ever the case with poems. Words simply surface on their own. I don’t even stop to think, and that means my mind works in readymade hendecasyllables. I normally have more than one ending to a poem, and, again, that could be very frustrating.
I wish I were a more disciplined writer. I envy those writers who make it a point to write every day, and even set a word count they have to produce on a daily basis. I’m not that type. I just write whenever. I’m not even the type who is always carrying notes around “just in case an idea crops up”. And I assure you, if it’s time to sleep and an image flashes, it will have to wait until the next day: if it returns then fine, if not it means it was not so important.