A novel in my lunch hour – Rosie Fiore

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By Rosie Fiore

I recently returned to full-time work after five years as a freelance copywriter, and I’ve loved it. I love the structure of my day, the focus, the camaraderie of collaborating on projects rather than doing all the work myself. But a few months ago, I committed to delivering the first draft of a new novel to my publishers by October this year. How would that fit in with my nine-to-five job, the commute and my family?♥

This would be my seventh full-length novel, and with all the others, I’ve followed a fairly rigid timetable, where I write 1200 words a day, every day. It’s just a matter of mathematics – a novel is usually between 80,000 – 120,000 words, and it takes a long time to write them all down. I find the discipline of daily writing helps me to keep all the threads of the story in my head, and helps me avoid The Fear… the crippling self-doubt that so often halts creative projects in their tracks.

People often ask me how long it takes to write 1200 words, and of course, the answer is, “As long as it takes”. Some days I can’t type fast enough to get them all down and I’m done in 40 minutes to an hour. Other days, I spend agonising hours wrestling with a single sentence and it’s like pulling teeth to creep to the end of the allotted number.

I was faced with the challenge of meeting my usual daily word count with my new, constrained timetable. I started out writing in the evenings, and this worked reasonably well, except I was tired when I began, and tired when I went to bed too late, and tired the next morning at work. By Friday each week, I was on my knees and no one was getting the best of me.

So I took a little laptop into work, and got into the habit of taking it to lunch with me. I’d go to the refectory (I work in a university), get my lunch and sit down at a quiet table. As I ate, I’d read through the previous day’s work, and when I’d finished, would have a good forty minutes to write. Knowing my time was limited focused my attention, and kept me off social media and other procrastination tools. In most lunchtimes, I’d manage to write 600-800 of my daily words, leaving a much smaller goal for the evening. I’m in my final week of the first draft now, and I realise that at least half of this book has been written at lunchtimes.

I thought my system was odd till I chatted to a friend at the weekend, who writes every day on his commute (he travels from Surrey into London and gets 30-40 minutes on a train, and, luckily, a seat!). Then I recalled a story I read ages ago about someone who wrote an entire novel on the Tube.

You see, it does always come down to mathematics. If you want to write a novel, you can break those 80,000 words down any way you like. If you produce just 350 words a day at lunchtime, or on the train, or by getting up half an hour earlier, you’ll finish a first draft in 228 days (roughly as many working days as there are in a year). A novel in a year. That sounds okay, doesn’t it?

You see, any big, long-term project only seems insurmountable and scary when you look at the whole. When you break it down, each constituent part is quite manageable. As the old cliché goes, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ That’s how I’ve written my lunchtime novel. One bite at a time.

Rosie Fiore was born and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. She studied drama at the University of the Witwatersrand and has worked as a writer for theatre, television, magazines, advertising, comedy and the corporate market. She has lived in London for the past fifteen years. Her first novel, This Year’s Black, was longlisted for the South African Sunday Times Literary Award. After Isabella is her fifth novel.


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