It all started when Jonathan Moore, who juggles a full-time job with writing a modern-day adventure-magic-sci-fi novel (not to mention finding time to be an energetic commenter here), mentioned to me that he might give up TV for a month.
He had in mind a radical change, he said. ‘No TV, while I was in my own house. I normally watch six hours a night, so this is a major change. I don’t watch anything I particularly like, I just watch it.’
We all might make resolutions like this but he did it. And in not just any month, but World Cup month – when the rest of the globe probably watched more TV than ever. And he says it has really paid off. He has laced into his rough draft (scraps of dialogue and description) and is now a third of the way through a cohesive, readable manuscript.
It is hardly surprising that spending more time on writing means you get more work done. What is surprising is what Jonathan, who perhaps is the chap pictured below, learned about the way his writerly biorhythms work.
‘I’ve always believed I work best between 11pm and 2am. Now I know this is rubbish. I can work at those times, but my mind is sharper the earlier I work. I can get out of bed and sit straight down at my desk if I want, especially if I’m picking up where I left off. I had one day where I couldn’t stop writing, and went on till 3am because the ideas kept coming. That was because I’d been working since the afternoon and they’d had time to brew.’
There were other benefits too. ‘With the time I’ve freed up I’ve also read seven novels – a lot for me as I had literary burnout after doing a degree in English. When TV was a major factor I was lucky to read one a month, so it didn’t take hold enough to influence my writing style. On the TV-free month I was reading for two to four hours a day and it was far more pervasive.’
That reading soon filtered through to the page. ‘I realized my prose was essentially a screenplay – describing setting in functional way and then going into the dialogue. I wonder how much of this was due to thinking in TV terms? I’m now more able to find alternative expression because I’m reading novels. You can see what I was reading from how my writing changes. Forster makes me introspective, verbose and loquacious. Raymond Carver makes me more terse.’
So now the experiment’s over, have the old habits crept back?
‘I have to keep this momentum going,’ he says. ‘I take nights off to watch TV episodes before they vanish from I-Player, but I have no desire to go back to watching programmes I have no interest in (which was often under the excuse that they’d be useful to me as a writer). I have to keep going to my desk as early as possible, laying the groundwork for the next step and keeping the story going. I have to keep reading. I have to keep putting the hours in to write something a bit crap so that the next day I can work out how to fix it. And I have to keep making time for this every day. Otherwise I’ll only ever be one of those people who had an idea for a novel once.’