pink hibiscus flower

Waiting for the Cicadas

That sounds like the title of a poem.

Or a light summer read novel.

In truth, it’s neither. Although I would love to use it sometime …

In reality, it’s what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks – amongst other things.

For although here in Crete it is now hot – the weather, since my arrival, switching from a gentle early summer warmth through two half days of indifferent cloud and a sudden downpour to this – the full-on heat of a Mediterranean summer.

But the cicadas are still absent. We are not woken by their insistent clamour, their curious chorus-like buzzing sound which pervades the months of July and August.

I know nothing about the life cycle of cicadas. Nor am I particularly interested to find out – it’s just a curious factor to me – why do they start their noisy accompaniment to hot days quite when they do?

Anyway, it makes for a great title, I hope you will agree.

Which leads me on – with absolutely no link whatsoever except for being here in Crete – to think about places and methods where writers write. Where they feel most productive.

It’s something that I am often asked when giving talks or running workshops.

What is your writing routine? Where do you like to write? What time of day?

I have read a lot about different authors’ methods and routines over the years. But I’ve learnt now to ignore them and not be shamed by the apparent devotional and disciplined habits of others.

You know the sort of thing: I shut myself in my writing cave at 8 in the morning and don’t leave it until 6 after completing 10,000 words ….

Or:

I write unfailingly on 365 – 366 in a leap year – days of the year and don’t allow for any interruptions.

Neither of these methods would be possible for me.

(And one of the many advantages of being an independent writer – and, of course, there are some disadvantages too – is the absence of an agent, an editor or a publisher breathing down one’s neck and insisting on deadlines that have to be adhered to – I know I would find that very stressful)

Back to those routines.

Some writers go for an hour’s walk early every morning before sitting down in their chosen writing space.

Others write religiously from 6 am until 11 am then return to edit in the evening after 6 pm.

Jane Austen, evidently, wrote sitting by a dining room window where she could watch the goings-on around her and tended to write early in the day. Essentially, though, we learn from her letters, she wrote when she had time, when she wasn’t doing things like taking walks or playing cards.

A woman after my own heart, I’d say, with no solitary hideaway writing room in the attic for her. She wrote on small scraps of paper which she hid from unexpected visitors and obviously a quill and ink were her instruments of necessity.

Toni Morrison, in the early days of her writing career, so I’ve read, wrote in the morning before dawn in order to write before her children were awake. Her early morning habit was always accompanied, evidently, by the ritual of making a cup of coffee and watching the sun rise. I go along with making the cup of coffee but if I were to wait to see the sun rise on bleak British days – spring, summer, autumn or winter – I’d be there until time for dinner.

In England, all year round, my choice is to write in the morning when other work allows. Then again, in the early evening. For some unknown reason, I find the afternoon incompatible with sitting staring at a computer screen – it seems to be the time to be out and about, to be thinking about, and often re-drafting in my mind, what I’ve written earlier.

But when I’m here at our family house in Crete, I am more flexible and often the hottest time of day in summer – the early to mid afternoon – is when I write.

Or rather type. For that’s another thing. For decades I wrote by hand and could not imagine any other way than handwriting first before typing up my endeavours.

But now I find ideas only flow through seeing the words on the screen. I make a few notes but it’s the process of typing, somehow, that makes the language form itself into phrases and into what I am trying to say.

And, of course, editing what has been typed onto a screen is so much easier than handwritten copy. I can ruthlessly sweep away and delete whole blocks of text in a moment – and constantly do.

Which is why, no doubt, I am such a slow writer.

Imagine Jane Austen crossing out all that hand written ink and quill written stuff – she would never have produced the work that she gave us in her sadly short life …and think what a loss to the film industry – as well as the literary world, naturally- that would have been!

So my past two weeks, waiting for the cicadas (had to get back to them somehow…) have been productive. Novel 5 has advanced and my research associated with it has also been enriched by the time to read.

I am already looking forward to being here again in a few weeks for more time to write and read endlessly- and by then, definitely, the cicadas will be in residence!

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