Tag Archives: writer

The Enemy of Art?

“There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall” – Cyril Connolly.

“Ash is sitting on the potty doing a pencil drawing while reciting loudly and accurately from Fortunately the Milk. I have to go away and hide and write for two weeks. I am going to miss this little wood-elf more than I can say.” Neil Gaiman, twitter, this week.

As a writer who had a baby (I’m female-ish, non-binary) I had to figure out how the writing was going to fit around the child. As a relatively poor person I had to take care of the child, the needs of the child. I could not have ever afforded to take a couple of weeks off for writing while someone else took care of my small child. I regret nothing. I would not have done differently if I’d had the money.

What I hate, passionately, is this idea that to be a good creator you have to be cut off from life in this way. I hate it just as much as I hate it when Tory politicians speak with pride about having never changed a nappy. I hate the way we devalue parenthood, and I really hate the way we devalue fatherhood.

I hate the way in which Neil Gaiman has presented this like the only way he can possibly write is by going away for two weeks. It perpetuates the idea that serious work has to happen outside the domestic sphere and that for people (usually men) who are important, going away to do the important things is just what you have to do. This is bullshit.

It isn’t easy being a parent and anything else at the same time. Most of us who have children do that, though. We have jobs, and other responsibilities, and we figure it out as best we can and do what we can, and take pride in the work and the parenting. It isn’t easy finding the focus and energy to work on creative projects when raising a small child. Many of us manage, all the same. Many of us do not experience that managing as some kind of heroic sacrifice.

I have every sympathy with anyone whose economic situation impacts on their scope for parenting – that’s a very different thing. I have every sympathy for parents whose work involves travel, and for the challenges and juggling involved. I’m frankly tired of the affluent men who think that raising their small children is someone else’s job.

Stage fright for authors

Me, only slightly awkward, talking at PF Wessex 2016.

This is a blog inspired by Myslexia – Www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames – to take part in a wider blog project. Thank you for the inspiration!

Most authors are, by nature, shy and retiring creatures. It’s an introverted career path, calling for long periods of silence, deep though and not interacting with others. Writers like to hide from the world, emerging blinking into the light between chapters, or when the coffee calls. However, once the book is written, and the reality of trying to sell it kicks in, the author has to become someone who can talk in public.

Podcasts, interviews, talks, book readings, workshops, panels at events… to sell books an author has to connect with people, and for many this is a tricky process. Last weekend, I was involved in a short story competition. One author confessed to never having used a microphone before, no doubt there were others with limited stage experience. They all did brilliantly, but I’ve seen authors caught like rabbits in the headlights at other times. It doesn’t matter how good you are on paper, it won’t help you when you have to get your body and voice in front of people.

On this score I have been tremendously lucky, because I came to the stage through folk music. I started singing floor spots in a folk club, and went on to singing floor spots on nights when there were performers booked. Next stop, MCing nights, and doing the odd small gig, and busking. I was gigging with someone, so could hide behind them. Having a process of building confidence and stage skills really helps, and that’s available some places.

When you get on a stage as an author, reading your own work, or talking about something, it’s all you. It’s totally exposed. Getting on stage as a folk singer, I have mostly sung other people’s songs, safe in the knowledge that the songs are excellent, and that other people have already agreed these songs are excellent. It’s a considerable comfort. A tune can carry the words, and when you’re signing, the pacing, phrasing, even how you deploy your voice is already dealt with. People can sing along, and in a set of songs, they tend to clap after each one, so you get little doses of reassurance that they don’t hate you. It’s much easier this way.

If the first time you get on a stage you do it to read, with a microphone, or talk, this is intimidating. Authors on stages need stagecraft as much as musicians do. You have to be able to look at the audience, talk to them, not just read to them. You have to be able to answer questions, and if you seem confident and relaxed, it’s a far better experience for them.

Most authors do not get away with avoiding public appearances, and if you want to be successful, it’s a necessary part of the mix. If you want to be good at being on a stage and it doesn’t come naturally, think like a musician. Find safe places to join in, where you can build your skills and confidence. Go out and watch other people doing it, and learn from their mistakes.

The thing is, very few of us are naturally good at standing up in front of people. Those who do it well make it look effortless. What you’re actually seeing is a carefully honed set of skills. If you are a shy and nervous woodland creature by nature, it’s just a case of learning how to appear otherwise for short periods of time.

Then at the end, they clap, and after the long silence of the writer’s shed, being applauded is a truly wonderful thing.

Contemplating my process

I’ve not had a good relationship with my fiction writing in the last year or so, if not longer, and figuring out what’s going wrong there is an ongoing issue. Writing fiction used to be my passion, one of the great loves of my life, so the loss of it is really hard. I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to make stuff up. It’s a loss of self, as well as the creative impact. So, what went wrong?

I spent a lot of years trying to write commercially, and while this works for some people, it doesn’t work for me. The bottom line is that I have to write for love – love of the work, and also love of the people I am writing for. I’m not talking ‘love’ in an exaggeration of ‘rather like’ here – as it is too often used. I’m talking passionate, devoted, slightly deranged, obsessive, driven, overwhelmed and absolutely have to write in order not to be entirely drowned by that sort of love. It is not an easy thing for other people to deal with, which is probably why somewhere in my early twenties, I stopped trying to work this way and started trying to be all professional, grownup and sensible about the process. That’s not working, and I am increasingly clear that the only way forward for me involves a willingness to be utterly vulnerable.

I work best when I’ve got a very specific audience in mind. Ideally it needs to be more than one person and if I’m writing for a couple of people whose needs and tastes don’t neatly match, then that creates a really exciting kind of tension, out of which things happen. My other half is fantastically supportive, but there’s just the one of him, and things I write for him or because of him can be too immediate and intimate to want to share more widely. I need more people in the mix.

I need feedback. I’m a bit of an attention junky (not an uncommon trait in writers and performers). Having people who will interact with my work, talk to me, read it, tell me what works for them, and generally get active about being my audience makes a world of difference. The odds are that anyone undertaking to do this simply becomes one of the people I write for.

Muses. These are always actual, alive people who are present in my life. People who inspire me both creatively and emotionally. It has to be both, because when this works for me, the two things are largely interchangeable. Love is inspiration, and inspiration is love.  People who catch me that way are few and far between, especially in a sustained way. Odd flashes of inspiration are more normal than the sustained stuff, and what I need is the sustained.

In an ideal world, I’d be interacting with people who are willing and able to be all of those things to me. That’s a very big ask in terms of time and commitment. More realistically I can think about the people in my life I could be writing for, and give myself more opportunities to be in spaces with people who inspire me. Those are the bits of the underpinning process I have some control over.

The short of it is that I think to fix my relationship with my writing, what I’ve got to do is invest a lot more time and energy in my connections with people. I spent too long being a hermit, and this is the toll it has taken. I spent too long trying to be safe, inoffensive and palatable when what I should have been doing was looking more for the people who can say ‘yes’ to all of this.

Novel forms of insanity

During the last few months, I’ve put the current novel to one side, in order to work on writing and recording the secret audio project. There are ten new short stories, and they will be happening in a way you can hear later this year. (More information when it’s happening!) I wrote those in response to a request, with some sense of an intended audience, and a desire to get some of my own eccentricities into the mix. The result seems to involve a lot of very dark humour.

There’s a practical limit to how many things I can do with my brain at a given time. Normal life involves this blog, plus other Pagan content at Patheos.com http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/category/columns/druid-thoughts/ and Pagan Square http://witchesandpagans.com/Nimue-s-Wheel/Blogger/Listings/nimue-brown.html. Most days I spend time working as a Press Officer for the Green Party – blogs and press releases, some of them requiring a lot of research. These things normally leave me enough time for some creative work, but if anything else turns up, it doesn’t take long for me to reach capacity. Frequently other things turn up. Books to review, requests for articles, and in the last couple of months, a book in edits as well.

It is undoubtedly easier to write a novel when the only thing you really need to focus on from one day to the next, is the novel. All the thinking time goes on characters, plots, interactions and world building. In an ideal world once you’re in the flow, you stay there, writing through the night if needs be, free to sleep when it fits the call of the muse. In practice, it is not usually like this, and the life of the writer does not actually allow a person to work in a way that most serves the next piece of creativity. Perhaps with a first book you can do this, but once you’re out in the world, or if you have to think about paying the bills, writing is not directed purely by ‘the muse’ but by when you can grab half an hour of thinking space.

Then what happens? Yesterday, the picking up of a novel I had barely thought about, much less worked on in the last six weeks. Trying to remember what I was doing and where I was going, and to find the same voice and the same flow. A half an hour dash of putting words onto the page, hoping they fit with the other words. While I’m doing it, novel writing is a high like no other. It absorbs me entirely, and I pour heart and soul into it. This is not to say that I love it more than other forms of creativity, but that each one is a very different process. Novel writing is a special form of insanity, involving the devotion of lots of time to things that do not exist but need to be plausible. Long conversations with imaginary people about things that did not happen. Deep emotional investment in that which never was and never will be.

That in itself is enough to do odd things to the mind, but then there’s the other process, of going from words written to a book manifest in the world. The need to shift gears, grab a business hat, study contracts, consider marketing, and get out there and sell the work: To an agent, a publisher, and then anyone who might read it. Dealing with the people who do not like it, trying to work out which bits of criticism are valid and which are best ignored. Performing the strange dance that is ticking boxes for commercial success and creating something that does not look as though it was made simply to tick all the boxes.

When I am writing, all else is forgotten. When I surface, all kinds of other things creep in. The doubts and questions. What is the point of all this? What good does it do? Is it merely delusion and self-indulgence? When you’ve just spent an hour talking to pretend people, it is not difficult to imagine that the idea of putting a book into the world is just as make-believe.

I know how much richer my life is for there being fiction in it. I have loved novels ever since I was capable of reading them. I have valued those other lives and imaginary worlds that other people’s writing has allowed me to enter. I’ve also seen how the joy of creating catches other people, and the effects of dealing with the non-writing side of the process too. Write, and go a bit mad, with the industry, the economics of it, the juggling. Do not write, and also go mad, with the not writing. If there’s a way round either, I have yet to find it.

Without inspiration

For the creative person, inspiration is everything. Any activity where you aren’t primarily just following instructions, depends on inspiration, and if that’s where you live, the flows and currents of ideas and creative energy become critically important. Like all flows and tides, creativity tends not to be a constant stream, because nothing natural is without degrees of fluctuation or change.

What happens when there is no inspiration? For an author, this is a place of fear. Writer’s block, is crippling. Not just in terms of not being able to produce in the moment, but also the fear of having lost it. There are no guarantees that your vision will ever return. On top of this, many creative people carry anxiety about being frauds. If you fear that you aren’t really a proper (insert appropriate title here) then the loss of inspiration can seem like proof that you can’t really cut it as a professional creative person. There’s nothing like fear, self doubt and despair to further shut down your creativity and reduce your scope to trust whatever does turn up.

I know a lot of professionally creative folk working across many different disciplines. What I see reliably, is people working long hours for not much money, and needing very high output to be able to make ends meet. The romantic view of the creative life, with the long literary lunches, the glamorous parties, and some occasional, pleasant, effort free not-proper-work is miles from the truth. I don’t know anyone living that way. I know a lot of people who work ten hour days and more, seven day weeks, producing gorgeous, inspired things and just about getting by. They create because they have to, because it is not possible to exist without doing it.

It would be nice to feel relaxed and at ease with the process, not worrying about deadlines, or where the money for next month will be coming from. It is easier to court the muse if you’re not conscious of needing money for shoes, or a thwacking great electric bill you can’t afford. When you need the flow of inspiration on full blast all day every day to have any hope of not sinking, block is terrifying and a disaster, and it tears people apart. We are not machines, and to need to run your inspiration as a commercial product can be to put your creativity in jeopardy. Burn-out can destroy you.

I think the last time I had a whole day off was in October 2013, and before that, there were a couple days in July. I’ve got a day in about ten days time, and I’ve been holding that thought for weeks now. The last few days I’ve been so tired, that the ideas are barely flowing at all. Yesterday, everything was making me cry, and that’s not a good sign. I gave up this morning and had a couple of extra hours in the duvet, just sitting there, not really thinking or doing anything because I was too shattered for even that.

Professional creativity means study and practice. It means polishing your craft, learning about it, developing it. It is a whole other thing from having a hobby, where you do only what is pleasurable and comfortable. These are the things people do not have in their minds when they say that we creative people should give our work away for free, for love. You only get creative excellence by working at it. Be that hours training your body for dance and gymnastics, hours developing your vocal stamina so that you can sing two 45 minute sets in an evening, or honing your skills so that you can capture a face in a few lines, be those of words or paint… If you don’t do these things professionally, you don’t tend to know what it takes. A good performer, a good artist will make it look breathlessly easy, but if you see that and assume there was no effort involved in getting to that place of simple brilliance, you might want to give it a try some time. It is so demoralising having all that dedicated work rubbished by people who want to justify getting a freebie.

In the meantime, I may not be doing much today.

A quest for poems

I was very young when I started writing poetry. I was encouraged at school and at home, and as it did not require so many words or so much plot as a story, there were obvious appeals. I learned something of structures. In my teens, looser verses became a way of venting and managing my emotions. Poetry as therapy isn’t unusual, but it’s often best if that material never falls on anyone else. I went to poetry classes at uni, both studying poetry as a writing form and getting opportunities to have a go. There were more structures to learn.

While I’ve worked hard with other writing forms, I confess that poetry has mostly been a hobby. I’ve used it as a place to pour out emotion, and to try and make sense of things. I’ve used it on occasion to court people (not always very effectively). It occurs to me that I haven’t written poetry for other people in the way I write short stories, essays, novels and non-fiction books.
A whole other voice comes into play in the poetry I like reading. It bypasses the banal in search of an essence. It speaks from soul to soul, and is more innately spiritual than story telling. Evocative, sometimes moving towards incantation, it breaths life as well as ideas.

I’ve started to think of poetry in terms of a desire to communicate with other people. Not just in a ‘would like to get in your pants’ sense. That in turn raises questions about what it might be worth saying. What can I not capture effectively in a blog post? What wouldn’t be better told as a short story? Sometimes the answer lies in the brevity. There’s a lot more intensity in a small poem than in pages of text; a sense of distillation and focus. If I really want to make a point, then sometimes the limitations of a poem are vastly useful in terms of getting right into the topic. There are issues of utility, too. I can take a poem or a short story to a ritual, but not an essay or a novel.

I have dabbled in putting poetry out in public, there are some print collections over at Lulu (free downloads in the book section of this site). They were written as and when they occurred to me, with no particular intent. I’ve depended on emotional energy and inspiration as and when it turns up. I’m experimenting at the moment with setting out to write poetry, and I do have overall intentions to guide what I’m doing. So far it seems to be going along passably well. I’m learning how not to feel too precious about first drafts. In any other form, the first draft is just a jumping off point, but I’ve tended to either hatch a poem at first try, or give up on it and move on. Learning how to go back and work at it is interesting. I’m learning to take notes, jotting down odd lines, phrases and ideas when they occur to me, and seeing if I can connect them up in a meaningful way at some later point. It’s a bit like sketching.

What any of this achieves remains to be seen, but I like to feel that I’m stretching myself and trying new ways of writing. Whatever else comes of the poetry, I know that focusing down on my use of words will improve me as a writer, and exploring other forms of expression helps keep me fresh, and stops me getting into ruts and habits.

I’m also taking it as a prompt to read more poetry, because I feel very strongly that if you don’t read in a subject or form, your scope for writing it well is much reduced.

The life of a book

No two books happen in quite the same way. However, people who don’t write, and people who are trying to can have a lot of unhelpful misconceptions about what they, and others, should be doing and how it *should* work. This is true for any creative form, and also for spiritual paths. What we get, is our own journey.

Last summer I started thinking about a book. I had a working title (Her Other Life) since abandoned. It was going to be a Steampunk Time Travel novel. (It isn’t.) I had a few thoughts about characters. Then I moved house, so no actual writing happened.
In the autumn I read Molly Scott Cato’s fascinating book ‘The Bioregional Economy’ and that got me round to thinking more about dystopian futures. A prompt from Theo had me thinking about technology, and some actual technology developments confirmed this for me. Not a word had been written.

I handwrite all of my first drafts for books. However, I’m fussy about my notebooks, because a poor paper quality or a bad cover can be off-putting. I therefore can’t start a project until the right notebook turns up. In October, I found the perfect notebook for a non-fiction project I had also been pondering, so I started work on that one.

About half way through November, with others stacking up their NaNoWriMo counts, I found a nice purple notepad and realised I could start. As I was handwriting, I can’t say anything about word counts. I brought the non-fic book to a point of needing to do something different, so I had space and wrote intensely on the novel. Early December was productive, then the festive period knocked me out.

Around then, I was asked to write twelve short stories for an audio project. I switched over to doing those. No sane author passes up an opportunity to get work out in favour of the unplaced work in progress. Along the way, I also had to spend time touting the new books (Hopeless Maine vol2, and Spirituality without Structure) I had books to review and blogs to write and some business possibilities to chase. I also, outrageously, had some time off.

We’re past the middle of January now, and since Christmas, I have added a single paragraph to the novel. I am entirely untroubled about this. I’ve gone back to the non-fic project, which is more on the boil now, and nearly finished the audio. I’ve just promised to get my attention back on a co-written project. The novel will happen, as and when bits occur to me, fitting in around the rest of life and the more immediately paying gigs. Write one in a month? I don’t think so. Having this drawn out, shambolic approach gives me time to mull and ferment. New influences come in, my ideas grow and develop, and I enjoy the process more. I hate writing books under pressure. Other people thrive on deadlines and writing things to order, but not me. I can write short things to order, but that’s a very different process.

Professional creative people have to be business people. That means balancing the paying gigs against whatever it takes to sustain you creatively. There’s no point writing five novels a year for peanuts if after two years you’ll be so burned out you can’t function. There’s also no point writing epic, self-indulgent books that no one will ever buy. If you’re doing it professionally, you mostly end up cobbling together a strategy based on what’s available and what suits you. No two of us end up with the same way of working, and that’s fine. If you’re doing it as a hobby, it’s a case of balancing it against the rest of your life, in whatever way turns out to make sense.

A life made of stories

All autobiography is to some degree a construct. As soon as you start talking about your ‘real’ life there’s a process of editing, and as with all kinds of history-making, more is bound to be left out, than mentioned. I’m very conscious of this when blogging, because I write from my own life a lot. I pick which points to dwell on. I decide which experiences are important or interesting enough to seem worth sharing. Consequently my life probably comes across as a lot more engaging than it is. But then, much of the life of an author involves sitting down and churning out words, and that bit is no kind of spectator sport! All normal human life is full of dull but necessary bits, and unless the laundry is your art-form or you’re really into cleaning, it’s not easy to talk about that in engaging ways.

We all tell stories about our lives, whether we consider ourselves to be ‘storytellers’ or not. We tales of who we are and where we came from. Those tales can root us in land, culture, family, community and faith. Such stories can be powerful, grounding forces in our lives that underpin identity, sense of purpose, sense of self. We tell stories that explain things. These can be helpful. I’m claustrophobic because I had a bad experience in the London underground. I don’t have to feel ridiculous or irrational, I have an explanation. However, if my story is that I can never make friends because I was bullied at school, or no one will love me because I am fat, that story can become a toxic thing that prevents me from taking the risks needed in order to move on. If my story is that it is never my fault and people are so unreasonable wanting me to behave decently, then I’m going to be fairly psychotic.

The stories I tell are constructs. They are true stories, but just by making a selection, I change the effect. Most often what I do aside from missing out the boring bits, is remove from the story those people along the way who I haven’t much liked. They become vague allusions, unnamed, ill-defined. It is a power that I know causes offence because I’ve had some very specific feedback, from one of the few people I don’t talk about in detail. People only like me, she said, because I am so selective in the stories I tell, I construct a falsely good impression of myself. If you really knew me, you’d hate me as much as she did, she felt.

I think she was missing the point. I don’t write this purely in order to be liked. I write to be useful. I’m guessing most of you do not read this because you are interested in my life, per se, more because you are interested in what light stories from my life might shed on your stories from your life. That’s a good deal more useful all round. Used that way, it doesn’t matter how factually ‘true’ a story is, only how useful it is. My stories are limited by being from my perspective, but other perspectives are available and a few of those cast me as villainous, selfish, demanding and unpleasant. I don’t expect to be able to keep everyone happy.

What I have for you today is a story. It is a true story, except that I missed out the boring bits, and I pared the cast down to a few interesting figures. A lot else happened during the time frame I’m talking about, but for the sake of coherence, I left those bits out too. This is a story about spiderwebs and the tenuous strings of connection that hold my life together. https://soundcloud.com/cradle2gravestories/nimue-spiderwebs-allow
It’s hosted by cradel2grave stories, who make a habit of this thing – people telling tales from their lives. It’s a really interesting project, so do have a poke around!

The silliest job imaginable

This week, I read an Alain De Botton book about work. What I found most interesting was the author’s evident belief that work was something he would have to observe other people doing – author, academic and philosopher not being normal or ’proper’ jobs. There was some comfort to be had in knowing it’s not just me who angsts over this.

I can make a case for the not-fiction work being useful. Not least because every now and then, someone comments to precisely that effect. I suspect a fair amount of time though, I am preaching to the converted – I think those of you who read my stuff already have a predisposition towards wondering and questioning. I may offer useful things to throw at that now and then, but you were already much of the way there. The difficulty is that so many people are not – especially those with material power. I am never going to get whole governments or business leaders to sit down and listen to my ideas, and therein lies the problem.

Most of the time, writing fiction feels like the silliest job imaginable. The fiction author invents that which never was and probably never will be, and spends many hours on this. Once thrown out into the world, the novel, (or other written forms of amusement for that matter) will entertain its victims for a few hours and then, for the greater part, will be forgotten, having done nothing more significant than used up a modicum of paper and time.

And yet… according to Neil Gaiman, China is now seeking to develop a fantasy and science fiction genre. Forms that had previously been banned (too decadent and bourgeois, I assume) are now required. The Chinese have made a link between the presence of speculative thinking, and the presence of innovative industries. They want the latter, therefore they conclude that they must have the former.

Fiction has a capacity to get in under the radar. It can prompt us to think and feel in unfamiliar ways, precisely because we do not take it too seriously. In many ways, a fiction work has more potential to change the world than a non-fic, because it can sneak in and travel further. Consider the relationship between Frankenstein and genetically modified food. Consider how a culture of space-opera-adventure feeds our collective desire to reach for the stars. Think about how Disney taught us to equate beauty with virtue and ugliness with being evil. Consider how JK Rowling has gone some way towards reversing that. There is power in those unreal things.

Religions are made of stories – often quiet implausible ones at that. All aspirations for the future are stories we tell ourselves, and we process the past into coherent narrative form, too, turning the chaos into meaning. We are story telling creatures, and we respond to narrative. So while writing fiction often feels like the most pointless, ineffective thing I could try and do, I also know that it is the thing I do with most potential for real impact.

I did not aspire to be an author because I craved fame and fortune. As a child and young adult, I wanted to write because I wanted to make a difference and I believed in fiction as a medium for delivering ideas. The trouble was that at that stage I didn’t really have any ideas, I didn’t know enough, hadn’t lived or thought or felt or empathised enough to have any clue at all about what needed saying, much less how to say it. For a while I stopped believing that I could write a book that would touch people. I lost faith in the process when I should have just recognised that I was too young and inexperienced to pull it off yet. I’m still probably too young and inexperienced. But I’m starting to think it may be possible after all, to do something meaningful that is made of fancy and impossibility. I’ll keep you posted.

Author seeks dirt

The trouble with writing is that it is often a lonely and abstract sort of process. It takes a person out of the world. While I have known authors who apparently spend all their time at the computer or writing desk, hammering out words, how or why anyone does this is a mystery to me. I can’t sustain that kind of approach, I fall all too rapidly into block and depression. I also have no desire to try it, any more, and not just because of what it does to me.

What are we going to write about today? No matter how rich your imagination is, if you do not feed it, then eventually you will run out of raw material to weave new ideas from. This can result in either writing things that are a lot like things you wrote already, or stopping. Does the world need you to do another book that is pretty much a re-hash of what was in the last three? Not really, although if you can sell it, there’s a real temptation. Authors like to be able to afford to eat, too.

It’s not just authors who need to consider this issue though. Many modern jobs are abstract, sitting in offices moving information around rather than doing anything tangible. Not all jobs confer much social contract, and the more rushed you are at work, the more alienated you can start to feel.

What we all need, in those circumstances, is a bit of dirt. There are many ways to seek it, but something real, earthy and tangible to ground us, and reconnect us to the rest of life, and to each other, is a wonderful thing. Simply getting outside can be a good answer to this one. Any art or craft that needs your hands, is productive. Anything that engages the body, or puts you in touch with other people.

Most of my housework happens when I am between ideas, or trying to loosen my brain up a bit. I like to cook, because the practicality of making meals for my family, using raw ingredients, really answers those needs to make something solid, useful and immediate. Books can be solid, but they are never immediate, there’s such a big gap between doing the work and getting the finished item that it all feels a bit unreal.

One of my other joys, is preserving – jams and chutneys, and another is brewing. I love getting out and foraging in hedgerows for raw materials to work with. I love turning those raw things into something that can fill a jar or a bottle. Later, I get to enjoy the consequences. Today I have not written much, but I’ve made a lot of chutney from foraged apples and set up some wine. I feel earthed. I got scratched and grubby, I did real things. There are times when I turn to needlecrafts for much the same effect. There’s nothing like getting to the end of a process and having a thing that you made, sat there.

Some people advise that if you want to write, you should try and write something every day. There is something to be said for expecting to make an effort. If you want to write well, and deeply, and in a sustainable way, it is not enough to write every day. You need to also get out there and live.