What Roald Dahl taught us about writing

On Saturday we had a fizwhizzing trip to the Roald Dahl museum in Buckinghamshire. They’re got a new exhibit which recreates his writing hut. And here it is:

roald dahl writing hut

This is where Roald Dahl worked every day for decades with almost ritualised repetition and precision. From 10 am every day, after the school run, he would settle into his chair, feet in a sleeping bag. The original hut was in the garden of his house, but he kept the curtains closed so the beautiful view didn’t intrude.

After lunch Dahl had two Bloody Marys and a gambling break, then powered on for another afternoon’s writing. He had a bar of Dairy Milk chocolate every day, and formed the silver paper wrappers into an impressive silver ball. You can see it in the picture above, near the top right hand side of the table. Every object on that table has meaning. Each is an essential ingredient. It looks like a random collection of stuff, but really it’s anything but.roald dahl writing chair

 

If Roald Dahl was writing today, I wonder what would be different?  Would he still be writing in pencil on giant yellow legal pads, or would he have graduated to a keyboard? I don’t think this hut would be the same with wifi. I can’t see Dahl losing half the day arguing with that guy about that thing on Twitter.

I took away two lessons from Roald Dahl’s writing hut – the first is to get to know your writing rhythm and work with it, not against it. For some people that will mean settling down in your favourite chair with a blanket round your legs. For others it might mean early mornings or late nights. There’s no right or wrong way. There’s just your way. The main thing is to write, and keep writing, for years and years. It’s another kind of marathon.

The other lesson I picked up was a sense of a life lived – Dahl had the most amazing life, with all kinds of crazy dramatic shit happening throughout. Death, sweets and hanging out with Ernest Hemingway was just the start of it. I guess imagination doesn’t prosper in a still pond.

So that’s it then – live and write. And find a comfy chair to sit in. Also being awesome helps.roald dahl museum

 

  • We don’t live far from the RD museum but I think we might be visiting very soon. I love the idea of ‘two bloody marys and a gambling break’.
    For me it would be ‘a cup of tea and a check of FB!’

  • oh definitely go Jacq. It was so interesting. Our group ranged from 5 month old baby to adult and we all found something to enjoy.

  • @Emma @Kate – you should so go! This is the second time we’ve been, as my son was a bit young for it the first time and is now really getting in to the books. I thought it was good value at £19 for a family ticket (that’s for 2 adults + 3 kids), under 5’s go free. We spent at least 2 hours there. Plus there’s a really cool old fashioned sweet shop across the road from it.

  • Emily from My Shitty Twenties

    Thanks for a great post. My son and I are hoping to visit the Roald Dahl museum one day. And when I have finished my own book, I would love to have a crack at children’s fiction. Love the desk, the Cadbury’s ball, your musings about whether he’d be online were he alive. Ace.

  • Kerry

    Oh I so need to go there, I love Roald Dahl and my niece is just getting into his stuff as well. I need to take on some of his lessons as well I think lol

  • I would love to go there! I love Roald Dahl. xx

  • I really need to go to this. I grew up in Chesham, just a few miles away and have never been there. We go down semi-regularly to see my mum and the children, 7yo esp, is right into Roald Dahl.

  • Why has it taken my so long to understand that the only way to learn to write, is to write and write, and write again. I’ll never be a patch on RD but I eat chocolate very well.

    It is quite fascinating to think how RD might write today.

    Have you had a look at the upcoming exhibition at the British Library which features original manuscripts from some of the UK’s greatest writers. Unlike us, they don’t have a back button and there are some amazing scribbles!

    Thanks for linking up to Parentonomy.

  • More comments – brilliant!

    @Emily @Kerry – Now that you have read this post, you have to go there. That’s the law.

    @Elizabeth – No I hadn’t heard about that exhibition, sounds really good. I do think that the way in which you write very much influences what you write. I just can’t imagine writing anything now without being able to easily tweak and rewrite it, but it’s not that long ago that the first thing you wrote down was pretty much how the end product turned out.

  • Inciseekentek

    It is challenging to come across knowledgeable many people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you are talking about! Thanks