Writing habits: Do you nibble when you scribble?

Food of Writers
Category: Writing

A while ago, a survey was published by Mslexia magazine of what women writers wear when writing. It emerged that while 2% prefer to scribble in the buff (laptop batteries, thighs, ouch!) others have a 'special writing outfit'. 14% wear pyjamas, and less than half wear 'normal clothes', whatever they may be. While I can't say it ever occurs to me what to put on when I'm writing, there is one stipulation for all outfits; they must be conducive to snacking.

If my week away at Cove Park earlier this year taught me anything about my own routines and writing habits it is that I am a voracious writing-snacker. Whether it is breakfast at my desk or a steady drip of weak tea, I always seem to need something either in or close to my mouth when at the keyboard. And this has got me wondering what effect food has on productivity and on the output of the content.

The first draft of my novel was turbo-powered by a particular type of supermarket cookie. I would snack on this biscuit with almost religious fervour as I typed, becoming quite dependent until I had an almost box-a-day habit. I managed to produce 160,000 words in six months while hooked on the putty-soft chocolate chips and half-baked dough, and it's possible that the effects showed in the manuscript, as I was told it had a certain rambling unhinged feel to it.

Slow down, I chided my stomach. Try to be more calculated about what you eat when you write. Last year, completing my second draft I thought I could be canny. Not tempted by the idea of adopting a Daniel Day-Lewis-style method-diet of Edwardian prison food, I attempted the next best thing and developed a fetish for Beanscene's London Fogs. Cloudy and mysterious-scented - with a dose of sweetness in the teaspoon of honey - I was hoping that even the name of this drink would feed into the atmosphere of murky London. The draft was definitely more trim, weighing in at 120,000 words. I managed to get back into my old jeans and didn't have to adopt a 'special writing outfit'. An agent even offered to give me some advice on the next draft - though sadly this didn't extend to dietary suggestions.

This redraft round I made the decision to be monastic. Clean up both the writing and my snacking habits and hopefully produce something lean and healthy. I had read Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's exaltations of the 5-2 diet, where you eat for five days of the week and limit your food intake to 500 calories (for women, 600 for men) on the other two. Fasting made him feel lean and sharp, he proclaimed. It made me feel dizzy and a bit confused, not the ideal conditions for re-structuring a thriller plot.

So while at Cove Park, completing the bulk of the redraft, I agreed with myself to compromise - give in to the snacks but keep them healthy. I stocked my fridge with humous and oatcakes, baking potatoes and tubs of cottage cheese. Sadly baking the potatoes set off the smoke alarm and I felt compelled to feed my oatcakes to the ducks. By the end of the week a ravaged nest of creme eggs and an empty drum of hot chocolate were the only clues I had been in residence. Old habits die hard. But I did finish the redraft, and I suppose only time will tell the nutritional value of this one.

Lucy Ribchester

Lucy Ribchester received a 2012/13 New Writers Award for Fiction. She is currently working on her first novel, The Hourglass Factory, a murder mystery set in 1912 suffragette London. You can find her on twitter @lucyribchester