Don’t create in front of a computer
In a world of screens and questionable wi-fi connections, Valur Gunnarsson recommends spending more time thinking than writing

Does sitting in front of a laptop zap the energy out of you? Do you want to maximise your creativity and productivity?

In a world of screens and questionable wi-fi connections, we asked Valur Gunnarsson who is taking part in our Imagining the City programme for his advice on developing your writing habits and minimising the time you spend in front of a computer.  You can try out Valur’s method for effectively dividing your day and making the most of your surroundings below.


Imagining the City brings together five writers from UNESCO Cities of Literature across the world to explore connections between Norwich and their cities; link up with local writers; and work on a range of commissions.

Meet our five virtual writers in residence and find out how they spending their virtual residencies here >>

Like many or most writers, I was in lockdown mode before everyone was. And it had taken me a long time to learn how to manage my day. At first I treated writing a book like I was taking an exam, working long into the night until the point of exhaustion and getting up in the late afternoon, usually to redo what I had done the previous night. But this is no way to live or, indeed, to write.

You see, writing should take up very little of a writer’s day. Sitting in a room in front of a computer screen is not the best way to be inspired. Worse, most ideas that you manage to squeeze out tend not to be very good, inviting yet more long hours of rewrites.

The creative part of a writer’s day should go into thinking about the work in question. This can be done anywhere, ideally when getting exercise often missing during times of lockdown or writing. Go for a walk, go for a swim, even step hamster-like on a treadmill. While doing just that, think about what it is you are trying to say.

‘So after dinner I fill up on material, in the mornings I process it, and in the afternoon I distill it down to the page.’

That way, when you do sit down in front of the computer, you know (almost) exactly what you want to be doing. This will both reduce your actual working time (which is good in itself), get you into better shape and, most importantly, lead to better results. Ideas have already been vetted and therefore less likely to need to be redone. Pick a time, 2-4 hours a day to write, but it must always be the same time of day. Except Sundays. Perhaps the only part the Bible really got right is that one should rest one day a week. It will, as the almighty knew, increase output in the long run.

Personally, my peak writing hours are roughly between 16.00 and 19.00. In the morning I go for the aforementioned exercise and think about the day’s chapter. This then gets written relative quickly. Since I utilize a lot of history, there is a lot of research involved, and I tend to do this in the evenings (and on Sundays). So after dinner I fill up on material, in the mornings I process it, and in the afternoon I distill it down to the page. Every day is the same, always.

It might not be much of a way to live, but it is a great way to write. Then, of course, when the first drafts have been completed and the final draft looms and the deadline draws closer, I will spend all waking hours writing well into the night. Just as if I was having an exam.

Valur Gunnarsson, Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature

 width=Valur Gunnarsson is a writer of creative historical fiction from ReykjavikValur grew up on the Viking trail in Reykjavik, Oslo and Yorkshire. His first novel was a Viking fantasy and his third an alternative history where the Germans invade Iceland in World War II. Meanwhile, his second novel was a piece of autofiction set in the aftermath of the economic collapse of 2008. His fourth book, expected in March 2021, is in the same vein, but this time set in the former Soviet Union. He also co-founded Grapevine magazine and has made three albums and a poetry book.  

 Valur says: ‘Stark coastal scenes. Incessant North Atlantic winds. Fish, give or take chips. An illustrious literary history, going back to the Middle Ages. And Vikings. On the face of it, Norfolk and Iceland are the same place, separated by a patch of water. Although preliminary research suggests that Norfolk is rather more flat. Having studied literature both at the University of Iceland and at UEA, I want to explore how the history, and the landscape, have impacted writers such as Sebald and Laxness who wandered these respective coasts and mused about their heritage.’ 

Looking for some inspiration?

Join us this February for Imagining the City: a series of daily writing prompts inspired by the hometowns of our UNESCO Cities of Literature Virtual Writers in Residence. From bookshops to beaches, our writers have devised a series of images and written prompts that reflect the concerns they’re exploring throughout their virtual residency. Get your writing prompts >>

Main image by Cup of Couple from Pexels

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