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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Writing with Interruptions: a how-to

Writers have their perfect times and places to write. Sometimes these are archetypes: the café writer; the midnight writer; the weekend writer; the crack-of-dawn writer. I’m a combination of two or three, and on a busy day, perhaps four. If you have carved out that precious block of time from that thing otherwise known as “live-a-day life”, you probably guard it well. That’s good, admirable even.

Yet the best little cave found in the best time of the day can become a terrible place of interruptions. When this happens, don’t get upset. Loss of your “writerly emotional state” can ruin your creative mind, and waste that block of time. Instead, deal with the interruption as a moment you can use for your story (the one you’re working on, or something to hold for the future). See what the problem is; how could you (or the interrupting character) make the problem 10-times worse, or a moment of quick-action, or a time for reflection, or a philosophical debate, or a way towards death/love/eating/travel/sex/an argument or etc.

Whatever has interrupted you, use it as story possibility. For example, I was writing in a small bar in a seaside Maltese village one afternoon; I’d written there before, and knew that time of day was very quiet. Usually. Suddenly (just like in a story!) a group of tourists came crashing through the door. They were loud. They were complaining. They were American college students in from some marine study program. And they wanted to drink in a real “British” pub. I set down my pen and stared out a nearby window, but listened to all the conversations that I could snatch from the air. In just a few minutes, I picked up my pen and began to write down what I heard; not all the stuff, but parts of conversations, interjections, asides, and their own interruptions.

What I came away with were enough characterizations and bits of dialogue, slang and idioms, idiocies and brilliance, to help me with a scene that I had been contemplating and noodling with on and off for a couple weeks. I changed some genders, added sentences, mixed and contrasted meanings, allusions and intentions, until I had built two characters into a scene that, with lots of work but with help from this interruption, created a new dynamic for the main character, Richard Bentley, in my first novel, The Village Wit.

Such luck didn’t happen all the time. Hardly so. But the opportunity came for me because I allowed the interruption to take me to an imaginative place (linked to the reality of the moment) where I was able to make story from pretty much a mish-mash.

Try it out, the next time you’re writing and feel “interrupted” … whether it’s because the bus was early, the phone didn’t stop ringing, or the kids came in and vomited all over the rug, one after the other.


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.


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