For the last five years my ‘writing space’ has been a laptop placed anywhere with enough room. I spent a long time living in a room at my in-laws so space was a luxury. When I finally moved into my own place we talked about converting the small bedroom into an office space so I could finally have a place of my own in which to write. That finally happened late last year. So, in my writing space, there is a desk, which is usually quite messy and covered in weird trinkets, half-read books, unfinished sewing projects and sketchbooks. There are bookshelves behind me, but apparently not enough of them, or perhaps I just need to KonMari my book collection. There is a cushion for my cats to sit and judge me, and a notice board which I fill with postcards from friends and small pieces of art I’ve picked up here and there. There is a window in front of me to gaze out of, especially when it’s raining. And there is a cardboard cut out of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, just because.
I aspire to being the kind of writer who has a routine, but I’m largely quite chaotic when it comes to writing. I’m so busy a lot of the time that routine basically means carving out chunks of time between work/commuting/freelancing/uni/life admin which isn’t always easy. So it’s all very ad-hoc, which isn’t ideal, but I’ve never been very good at setting and sticking to routines – though I would like to be! Maybe I need a life coach. I do try to make sure I have a cup of tea, though.
Music can help or hinder my writing. It very much depends. Sometimes I end up responding so strongly to the music that it’s almost impossible to focus on the writing. One thing I do always have on is a background noise generator. I use mynoise.net which has a range of sounds from rain, waves and forest sounds to tonal drones such as chanting, white noise, or even randomly generated piano sounds. It’s also super good for anxiety. Unsurprisingly, my favourite setting is Japanese Garden. If I do listen to music, I try to pick soundtracks or orchestral stuff which I won’t be tempted to sing along to.
Chatter and conversation, if they’re close by, distract me from writing. But also total silence can be distracting because my brain fills the void and that’s never advisable. Some kind of unintrusive sound is necessary, even if that’s background chatter in the office at lunchtime, or in a coffee shop. Otherwise, I’m pretty adaptable. I wonder if that will change as I get used to working at a desk?
I am slowly getting over my weird OCD superstition which tells me that if I talk about a work in progress my brain will shut down and I will be completely unable to ever finish it. (I still can’t give my stories titles until they’re finished, though, due to the same irrational fear!) So, the quick answer to what I’m working on is: TOO MANY THINGS. The longer answer is: finishing a short story which riffs off Alice in Wonderland, set in an abandoned Japanese Inari shrine populated by yokai (folkloric monsters and demons). Then I need to start work on another short story, which has something to do with number stations (look them up, it’s a weird and fascinating rabbithole to fall down.) And finally, I’ve got the beginnings of what might be a novel or novella to go back to, which seems to be heading down a distinctly SF route…
One more thing. Please could someone come round and teach me how to create and stick to a routine. I will pay you in hot beverages and possibly money if I can find any. I have so much stuff to do. You are my only hope.
Laura Mauro’s short story LOOKING FOR LAIKA won the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction in 2018. Her debut collection, SING YOUR SADNESS DEEP, is forthcoming from Undertow Books. Her blog can be found here.