How I write – Lisa Falzon
I’ve often heard of writers who need things to be just so – to be at their special desk in the garden shed, to have absolute silence, or a particular brand of coffee… or brandy.. in order to be able to write.
I wish I could tell you I’m extremely whimsical and that I can only write when the Sun is in Aquarius and I’m in my 16th century château surrounded by adoring youths and albino peacocks. But alas my reality is rather more prosaic – the truth is I tend to write anywhere, anytime, on anything!
I don’t mind background noises, for instance. Where I live now, in the Irish countryside, birdsong and the distant sound of the river are what I am most likely to hear. But when I lived in Paris, it was the hum of the suburb that filtered to my fifth story window where I lived, not far from Versailles – and it was to this background that I wrote my first novel Xi Mkien Iehor.
Writing has always been about finding the space inside myself where I can work – so I can write on a bus, in a busy airport, while waiting for someone at a café – be it at my computer, typing away, or on paper. I don’t have a special type of notebook that I need, or a pen that I prefer. As a child, I had more rituals for writing. I wouldn’t allow anyone to read over my shoulder so I would write with my back against the wall or even more neurotically, on the top stair of a staircase. And always on school copybooks which I would then tape together to make up the silly ‘epic’ books I used to then write and now cringe to remember.
But I’m rather less fussy now. I wrote my first novel, Xi Mkien Iehor, entirely on the only kind of copybooks you can get in France (and Italy, I’m told) that we would call graph paper in Malta – the ones with boxes instead of lines. I wrote most of it over six months, and used to pace on the high long balcony of our top floor apartment whenever I got stuck in the plot. This was because the actual apartment was too tiny to pace in. Anyone who has lived in Paris knows exactly what I mean when I say ‘tiny’…
In between writing Xi Mkien Iehor I worked on other projects so writing that story was by no means the only thing I did then. Variety and change helps me retain interest in a project. I also wrote micro-fiction, 50-word stories in particular. They’re the ideal way for me to pin ideas down in a structured manner without having to dedicate the time and thought that would be needed for them to become full stories. Come to think of it, concern with word-count could be one of the most unusual things about my writing habits. I’ve long challenged myself to write exactly the required number of words – even as a child, in essays. In fact this very article is exactly 750 words long.
I don’t keep an inspiration notebook, nor do I plot things religiously on cork boards as if I were planning a military coup, or make pretend-interviews with my characters something I know other authors do. I long for this kind of diligence. Sometimes I’ll jot something down on paper only to accidently throw it away, or write a few keywords on my hand to remind myself of something then wash it off by mistake. I’m messy, both in mind and in lifestyle, and though I’ve many times resolved to get more organised with my thoughts it’s never worked. Writing plots down in detail in my case has so far been the equivalent of pouring bleach all over them. Anything written in more detail than a bare skeletal plot, and I’ve basically doomed my story. Perhaps this is why I love to write microfiction so much – because it’s instant gratification.
For now I‘ll allow my pen to surprise me and write from my seat of absolute chaos. Even as I write this, my desk is so filled with random things from fossils to bracelets that it looks like a Victorian diorama. Perhaps in the future, I will have this kind of methodology and discipline and rigour I think real authors do… but for now I think, I shall potter on in this madness I’m accustomed to.