2. The Importance Of The Workplace

The workplace is, for writers, a very important space. It's the place you go to to do your writing. Now that's a very simple statement but its import is tremendous. Where you work is your space and only you can enter it. But what is it exactly?

If you've ever visualised a writer's den - the leather seats, the walnut desk, oak bookcases bracketing an open fire before which reclines a torpid bulldog -

Forget it!

These are writers out of the pages of fiction. The truth is that most writers have a corner of the house in which to prop up their notebook computer and would give their eye-teeth for a study. And yet - they manage to write. How? Quite simple.

· They arrange their own special 'writing space' - their workplace.

· They set aside regular time for their writing in their workplace.

· They have the support of their family.

Your workplace really does have to be static. That is, you shouldn't be shunted around the house like a spare piece of furniture. It's really important that you have a space - no matter how small - to call your own. A traditional study or den is of course ideal but the word 'study' does not refer to a particular room in a house - it can be anything. One writer I know created a perfectly acceptable workspace 'study' in the alcove beneath the house stairs. If you think that was difficult, I heard recently of one short-story writer whose only space when she started was on her train commute to work. And yet she used this less-than-ideal space to write her stories (in pencil!), many of which have now been featured in national magazines. I'm not suggesting this is an ideal situation - the point is that, despite having a narrow time window and noisy surroundings, she managed to make this her special place to write. And that's what counts!

Your study is merely the place you work in on a regular basis, one where you can leave off work and then return to find everything as you left it. Your workplace! This is your own special space and you can have it set up as you like. Some writers can only work if they have a room to themselves and cathedral-like silence. Some like listening to rock music whilst they write, others like writing in the middle of the night. (I'm a cathedral man myself.)

It may well be that the space you have to devote to your workplace is very small and that you simply cannot fit all your equipment into it. Don't worry. As long as you can get yourself, your computer (hence the popularity of laptops!) and if at all possible your printer in, you can work in an organized and orderly fashion. And that distinguishes the writer from the dabbler. Many people don't think of writing as work. Believe me it is. Hard work.

Now that you have the where sorted out, it's time to think about the when.

Setting aside regular time for writing is important. It's a question of self-discipline. Only you can truly know just how much time you have to write and you must be realistic about this. I cannot give you a schedule - I don't know what your commitments are. Only you know that, so set your schedule to suit yourself. You have far more chance of sticking to it if you assess the time available and schedule your writing time to match.

It may be that you find, after thinking about your lifestyle, that you realistically have only an hour a day to spend on your writing. Having a full-time occupation could mean you're too tired to write properly after work - one reason why many writers use early morning as their writing time. It may be that, after thinking about your commitments, you think you don't have any time at all.

I'm going to challenge that. Here'e when you do your first bit of writing - even though it's just a self-assessment.

Try this little project. Do it when you have a bit of time to yourself (hah! So you do have some time!) and can think clearly. Get hold of a pad and pen.

Divide a page up into the days of the week (do it over several pages if you like). Divide each day up into hours. Now start at Monday and write down your activities through the day, starting when you get up. It might run something like this:

7a.m. - Get up, get dressed, get kids ready for school.

8 a.m. - Do the school run, back about 8.45

9 a.m. - Get into work.

9 a.m. - 12 noon - work.

12 noon - 1 p.m. - lunch break

1 p.m. - 5 p.m work

5 p.m. - pick kids up from creche

6 p.m. - make dinner

7 p.m. - 9 p.m. - ,family time then get kids ready for bed.

9 p.m. - 11 p.m. - watch TV, read book etc

12 midnight - turn in.

Do every day (including weekends) like that. When you have finished, take a look at the time you have available. You'll probably be surprised. In the example above you could, for instance, get up an hour earlier (or more!). You could use your lunch break, or part of it, to jot ideas and rough drafts down on a pad - or on your laptop if you carry it with you. Instead of watching TV for two hours, watch it for one, write for the other hour. In this day alone it's easily possible to set aside 3 hours for writing!

Now I'm not suggesting that you use every spare minute you have for writing. You're not a robot. So out of the three hours you've identified in 'Monday', choose, say, two hours that you are confident you can write in regularly. If your finished word rate per hour (this is the rate at which you truly write, including edits and all drafts) is, say, 300 words per hour, than in just one day that's 600 words. In a week it's 4,200 words. At that rate you will write an 84,000-word novel in just five months! Think that's optimistic? The average time taken to write a novel is ten months - and some take years. I wrote my first novel, a crime thriller of 98,000 words, in eight months.

Now, your work rate may be much faster than mine. It may be slower. The important thing is that you be consistent and use your writing time as well as you can.

The crucial thing is to stick to your schedule. There may be days when you sit there without an idea in your head. On those days, use your writing time to maybe revise some earlier work, or even to read a book - good writers are almost invariably avid readers. Try to use this set-aside time for your writing work and soon it will become habit and won't feel out of place anymore. Human beings are creatures of habit, after all! You may well be surprised to find that, even after a week or two of sticking to your writing schedule, it will feel strange not to be writing at your allotted time. Trust me, I know!

It's important, too, that your family and friends understand this scheduling of your time. We all like being with family, maybe watching a film on TV or just chatting over a glass of wine but you can't do two things at once. Explain that, although you love being with them, your writing is important to you and when you're in your 'workplace' you need to be left in peace without being interrupted. They, too, will soon become accustomed to your 'strange behaviour!'

Many fledgling writers feel a bit self-conscious at first - 'what, me a writer?' Or worse still, they may feel that their family thinks they're 'just playing at it'. However, your confidence will grow when it becomes obvious to others - and to you - that you are serious about this and it isn't a flash in the pan. For many writers, from beginners to the highly experienced, this support is a valued and essential resource.

You will be able to see from this that writing isn't just about dashing off a sonnet as you sprawl in the long grass on a summer's day. Writing, if you are going to take it seriously (you are, aren't you?) is self-discipline, combined with a professional attitude to the work you are doing. Make no mistake: writing can be very hard work indeed. When you're sat alone in front of a blank screen late at night without an idea in your head it can be a gruelling task to start writing. When you sit and think 'my writing time's coming up' and have to drag yourself to your desk it can spark self-doubt and despondency. Writing is a lonely business. No-one understands. No-one cares . . .

Then there are the times when words flow out of you like water from a burst dam. Those are the times when it's difficult, often downright impossible, to stop writing! When an idea crashes into your mind like a thunderbolt and, hours or days later, you're sat looking at a wonderful piece of work. That's when the discipline, the grit and determination and work pay off.

It's a wonderful feeling.

Right - you know know a few things about how to be a writer, such as:

'Yes!' I hear you scream, 'that's great! Fine! But I want to know how to write a novel and if this was a paper book I'd tear it in half! When is this guy going to tell me how I write a book?'

Answer: right now!

Index page 1. Necessary equipment. 3. Choosing the right book for you to write. 4. Ideas and how to get them. 5. How to plan a story. 6. How to make characters come to life. 7. Plotting your story. 8. Self-editing and the final draft. 9. Agents and Publishers 10. Writers' groups. 11. Writing competitions. 12. Reference works.