Back when I was trying to find my way writing at home with two small children - having given up the imperative of the weekly poetry reading, not to mention my own messy life, both of which had previously inspired and driven me to write - I discovered the vast field of writing about writing. It helped that we'd just got the Internet and I could order books straight from America, it also helped that I was on a listserve for journal writers, who were mostly American - and they weren't slow to recommend books. I discovered Anne Lammot, Natalie Goldberg and Deena Metzger and I used to set myself daily writing exercises which I did with a surprising regularity. Surprising given my domestic situation and the fact that I had to work on the dining room table.
Over the years, that kind of writing practice has declined. When I haven't been writing a novel, I've spent time writing poetry, but there have been periods in between these two forms of writing when not a lot of writing has happened and I've felt awful. I've explained it away to myself, logically and, mostly, with compassion, but a little part of me always feels unhappy.
I have been writing in Paris, yes - that was true. But I was suddenly a little panicked about the amount of time that had flown by without me settling down into a writing routine. If I didn't look out I'd return home to my recent-old way of working which wasn't making me as happy as it should. I'd had this vision of Paris allowing me endless writing time - time enough to begin fifty projects and see at least half of them to completion! Or, at the very least, time to re-establish a solid writing life.
I downloaded Natalie Goldberg's latest book on to my Kindle, read the first chapter and re-assessed what I was doing. Don't get me wrong - the book didn't really tell me anything new. I've read Goldberg's books before and I knew she was going to talk about writing practice, mindfulness and meditation. Which is exactly why I needed to read it. I didn't want a book that talked about character creation, dialogue tweaking or fifteen tips for perfect scripts. I wanted a book that nudged me back into square one - sitting down and writing every day, doing the scales, making the writing no matter what - publishing industry, bookshops closing, uncertainty and all the other demons be damned. I wanted to regain that sense of possibility and joy that is anchored by the actual doing.
So, every day I've meditated for 10 - 15 minutes and then I've written for the same amount of time. Free-written. No judgement, not too much thought, just my hand moving across the page. Sometimes I've started with one word, sometimes an idea or image. It doesn't matter, I've written until my phone alarm rings.
It's allowed me to learn different things about the novel - but it's also creating a repository of ideas for the future. I won't get those fifty projects started - that was so wildly optimistic! But each morning I will show up on the page and I will note things that could easily lead to fifty projects in the future.
Showing up - working at it, keeping faith, trusting yourself and making the time - such simple but important elements of any life - and how easily we forget them, put them aside and zone out from the anxious voice in our head that asks where we are in all this, where our work is.
It's true that this work hardly pays the bills. It's true that it's insecure-making, that some days I walk into a bookstore and see all those rows upon rows of books and despair about my own small contribution (and why isn't it there? or if it is there, why isn't cover out? does no one love me?). But that's not what matters in the end.When the kids were little enough to watch Playschool while I wrote for half an hour each morning, what I rejoiced in was the writing. That was enough - that, and the fact that I knew I could do it again the following day.