Writers do it anywhere, even on a toilet in Shanghai

The best thing about being a writer is that you can do it almost anywhere. All you need is a ballpoint pen and the back of an envelope and you are ready to go whenever inspiration strikes.

You might just be recording an idea, or jotting down a snippet of dialogue. Or you might find yourself inspired at the oddest moment to write the opening paragraph of a new novel. Ultimately, a book is an assembly of a thousand such moments—and there’s no way to know when those moments will come along.

Years ago, back when Mao caps were in fashion and everyone in China wore drab, regulation boiler suits, I was on assignment in Shanghai for my newspaper.  I was required to file articles daily, knocked out on my battered old portable typewriter.

The only trouble was that Shanghai in those days—while an exciting city of 12 million people —was not  quite the glittering metropolis it is today, and was subject to frequent electricity cuts. Although I was staying in the best hotel on The Bund, my entire room was lit by a single 40-watt bulb. The only place with enough light to actually write was the bathroom, and the only place to sit was the toilet.

More than twenty years later I wrote parts of my debut novel, Spank, while sitting in a bar sipping a beer. Other bits were written on planes and trains; I wrote an entire chapter in the cabin of an ocean liner somewhere in the North Atlantic. And one of the most romantic episodes in the book—where my heroine makes love for the first time—was written on my phone while I was sitting in a sidewalk cafe in a small town on Spain’s Costa Blanca.

While sitting in the sun I was struck with the memory of a stunning church I had passed by the previous day and how brilliant a setting it would be for that critical moment. And as every writer knows, when those flashes hit you, you don’t let those sparks pass you by. As tedious as tapping away at my phone was, the end result is the perfect scene. Good job I had my phone handy!

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