Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Downton Abbey) on Writing
“I think a lot in bed at night. When I wake up, I never try to get back to sleep; I try to work out the stories of Downton. In the morning, I might have maybe half an hour before I get up to sort out stories and plots and things. I do it when I’m driving, too. When I sit down in front of the computer, I know what the stories are. I might write a page of indications of stories: ‘Mrs. Patmore buys a new hat.’ Then I tell the stories, plaiting them. [. . . ]
“I started my writing career largely when I was working as an actor on a series called Monarch of the Glen. I had to write in a hotel room or in some horrible dressing room. I could take my computer, plug it in, and start working: I couldn’t do all that Oh, so I’ve got to be facing the sun at this angle.
“I work partly in London and in Dorset; I work in the House of Lords— they’ve given me a little office. I am something of a workaholic, which I can only say is just as well. I feel guilty when I’m not working.
“I don’t have time for writer’s block; I just have to get on, because I’ve made so many commitments. Sometimes you write stuff, and it doesn’t seem any good, and you chuck it out; but you have to keep churning it out. If you want to be a writer for your living, and you’re not just working on your book in the attic, you have to be grown up about it and not wait until you’re in the mood. You can’t afford that. Usually, if you go for a walk, you can come back with an idea of where you go next.
“One thing I do— it doesn’t always work, but it’s pretty helpful— is finish work for the day knowing what the next bit is. I don’t usually stand up from my desk until I know what I will write as soon as I sit down the next day. I put in the heading of the scene: ‘Robert is standing in the library with Mary.’ Once you sit down and you can work immediately, to a certain extent you’ve got forward motion.
“I’m not a big fan of going back over what I’ve done. I like to write the episode and put ‘The End.’ In many ways, that’s when the work starts— changing the structure and altering the thing and taking that story out and putting this one in. Somehow modeling an episode that already exists is miles easier than the trudge of making it come into existence.”
Eaton, Rebecca (2013-10-29). Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS (250-251, 254). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
So, to recap:
- Use reflection time (before you get out of bed, when you're driving) to work out some of your writing so that you can wake up writing.
- Just write. No special surroundings needed.
- Guilt can be your friend: "I feel guilty when I'm not working."
- If you want to be a professional, just write: “I don’t have time for writer’s block.”
- Keep moving, part I: “If you go for a walk, you can come back with an idea of where you go next.” Or maybe if you take a shower? Just don’t take a bath and slip on the soap left behind by a treacherous lady’s maid.
- Keep moving, part II. Write down the “next bit” before you get up from your desk for the day. This gives you the forward motion you need.
- Don’t work it to death before you’re done. Write “The End” and then go back and change it. You’ll have to change it anyway, and the rewriting is already “miles easier” than writing it in the first place.