Philip Pullman on writing: The muse needs to find you at your desk.

A couple of weeks ago – I know, finger on the pulse – I attended a Society of Authors conference, at which the guest speaker was Philip Pullman. In fact, and this is quite the thing, at dinner I sat at the very same table as PP and Francesca Simon, of Horrid Henry fame. I’m afraid I cannot report on dinner conversation, since it did not stretch quite that far around the table. So I’m afraid all I can report is what was said to the gathered throng after dinner. When you write, PP said, it is necessary to be open to vulnerability and uncertainty, and it is in this state that he approaches a book – without a plan, without knowing how the book will unfold or how it will end. If he plans, PP says, he loses interest in the book. I was glad to hear him say this, because it is the only way in which I can write, and I have so often feared that it was the wrong way. It is not a matter of laziness or lack of discipline, and in fact of course there is a broad knowledge of the kind of book one wants to write, and there is constant planning, and constant work on narrative drive, but it happens day by day and on a micro level, as I proceed through the story. I never plan more than ten thousand words ahead. If it’s fresh to me, it will be fresh to the reader. PP was asked whether he enjoyed writing and he replied, with refreshing honesty, that much of it was drudgery, but that there were moments of joy. ‘Your greatest friends is habit… You can’t rely on inspiration,’ he told the gathered writers. ‘If the muse is to find you, she needs to know where to find you. She doesn’t go to the pub, she doesn’t go to the shops, she goes to your desk, and she needs to find you there.’