Saturday, May 13, 2017

My writing day / Hari Kunzru / ‘Espresso is all that stands between us and creative defeat’

I get some good thinking done at night, though I have to make myself stop and wind down … Hari Kunzru. Illustration: Alan Vest

My writing day

Hari Kunzru: ‘Espresso is all that stands between us and creative defeat’

The novelist on being woken at 5am, the best way to tackle street noise and the joys of keyboard fetishism

Hari Kunzru
Saturday 13 May 2017 10.00 BST

y writing day begins at about 5am when my daughter, aged 10 months, begins to yell imperiously in her crib. Usually Katie (my wife, also a novelist) brings her into bed and feeds her, which used to knock her back out, but her will is strong these days and by 6am or so she’s usually practising her fine motor skills by hooking a finger into one of my nostrils or pulling her mom’s hair or unpicking the insulation on the electrical cabling of the bedside lamp. Around this time, her four-year-old brother joins in too, and I usually end up taking them downstairs so Katie can get another hour of sleep. Fooling around in the sitting room eventually turns into breakfast and showers and wearing underwear on heads and making lunch to take to preschool, which is a short walk away from our house. After our son has been deposited with his classmates and is busy doing whatever is on the menu for the day – fingerpainting or scraping credit card numbers or making IEDs out of common household materials – we drag our weary carcasses to a coffee shop to acquire the strong espresso drinks that are all that stand between us and total creative defeat.

Ideally I write in a silent room with a magnificent and inspiring view of the natural world. I do not always have access to such a room. Instead I have street noise and an inbox full of administrative email, and if I’m really unlucky, actual phone calls to make. When I was depressed and unpublished and in my early 20s, I developed a full-blown phone phobia. I could put off the simplest call for days at a time. I still hate having to talk to the bank or the accountant, and find it hard to concentrate on writing until I’ve dealt with that kind of task.
Both Katie and I write at home. When the sitter turns up at 10am, the household settles down. I used to waste an improbable amount of time, but I don’t have that luxury now. I create my space with headphones, big over-the-ear cans that block out the world. I play music, usually something very minimal at low volume, just enough to trick myself into the meditative concentration I need to write. No vocal music for obvious reasons, though vocals can be OK if they’re in a language I don’t understand. When something works, it disappears and becomes an environment in which I can think. A Red Score in Tile, a 45-minute piece by William Basinski, is working right now. I am always on the lookout for writing music. I occasionally swap playlists with other writers. There are moods when I can write to Ravel solo piano or Basic Channel, and other moods in which I get distracted and just end up listening instead of working.

I have a desktop computer and a laptop. For a novel I make a single Word document, but rename it every morning, so I have a way to track versions if I need to dig out something I cut. I make notes on paper, in spiral-bound notebooks, but my handwriting is terrible, particularly if I’m trying to set ideas down quickly, and it’s much faster to type. I back up. I can’t understand writers who don’t back up. I look at a monitor jacked up to eye height on a pile of books. My desk is usually cluttered. I recently bought myself a good keyboard (one with mechanical switches, but that’s not too loud) and I wish I’d succumbed to keyboard fetishism years ago. What can I say? It’s a nicer ride. I spend a lot of time on the internet, but some of it’s research. My concentration is better when I’m not toggling between my Word doc and 30 different tabs on a browser.

Some days everything goes according to plan. If I’m under pressure and/or really into what I’m doing, I’ll eat at my desk. On other days, Katie and I will have lunch together, or end up playing with the baby or chatting to the sitter. Our son comes home at 4pm, and he’ll often bust down my door and come up for a cuddle. I’m always happy to see him. If I’m in the zone, I’ll kick him out and keep going until 6pm, when dinner, bathtime and reading bedtime stories take over. Some nights we’ll be out, or watch a video at home, but once the last foray out of the bedroom has been repulsed, we’ll often both start work again. I get some good thinking done at night, though I have to make myself stop and wind down, because if I lose too much sleep, I can’t function.

In brief

Hours at computer: 6-10
Hours wasted on internet: define wasted
Coffee: one early, perhaps another at home after lunch
Other consumption: yes
 Hari Kunzru's White Tears is published by Hamish Hamilton. 


My writing day

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