The desert

The desert haunts me. My dreams are parched and dusty and I wake to drink glass after glass of cool water but it doesn’t wash away the dryness. Is this your last game, your final torment? I longed to return to the desert, yet now it seeps into my nightmares so I can never go back. In this damp corner of the world even thoughts of returning bring no relief. Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have their nests, but I have nowhere to lay my head.

A rock, heated to baking by the blinding sun, would make a welcome pillow now. I would embrace a second skin of dust and the shimmering haze distorting time and distance. I would walk to you across the blistering plains with joy in every step, but I cannot cross the street to post this letter to you. The rain is a curtain of glass needles between me and my salvation.

I cannot dream this place. I cannot walk it or live it. Here in this land of damp sponge there is no line in the earth or song in the air to draw me onward. The trails are silent, lost to me beneath the endless water that pools beneath my feet, and I can only sink into the deepening mire.

When you wove your tales of ever-green landscapes, flowing streams and verdant trees I could hardly imagine such a place. But you were the living water to me and I would have followed you anywhere, even across the endless ocean. I did: here I am in the sinkhole of the earth. Like a watering hole in the high heat of summer you evaporated, a wavering mirage vanished into the dust.

I waited so long. In the end it was easier to believe that you were dead than to believe you’d abandoned me; I had to believe that if you still had breath you would have come back to me. You wouldn’t have abandoned me, like a child crying behind a rock, too small to know the predator but full of terror nonetheless.

I was a child of the great, wide world. I knew the joy of the sky and the breath of the night and the deep inner warmth of a body held in the eternal sun. I saw the magic in every rock and thorn bush, and the paths that led between them and the salt pans and I knew survival. Now I am drowning in mud. I cannot hear the songs for its roaring, or see the safe trails for the smears across my eyes. Walls bar my way and I haven’t the strength to open the door, for I know that beyond it are miles and miles of grey and green ribbon, and they will never lead me to brown-orange-yellow warmth. I am lost with nowhere to go.

[Note: Yes, this is fiction.]

[Another note: a friend advised me to rewrite this as a poem.  What do you think?]

Words in print

I could open a debate about the relative merits of the printed word and the digital word. But I won’t.

I’ll just say that, for me, nothing quite compares to seeing my own words in the pages of a book, or magazine, or in this case, the Earth Pathways Diary 2016.

I’ve loved using my 2015 diary and am delighted to have my writing in next year’s.  I’ve just received my advance copy this morning and it’s beautiful.

Can’t wait until the week of 29th September 2016 when I will be ‘casually’ showing everyone my words in print on the page.

Keeping the momentum

I understand why people advocate writing every day.  It’s all about keeping the momentum and building a habit.

If you work on something regularly it stays in your head.  Ideas come when you’re in the shower, and when you sit down to work on it again you can plunge straight in; you don’t have to spend half of your previous writing time trying to get back into it or working out where on earth it was going.

As I’ve written elsewhere today, habits stop you having to think.  Training your brain to switch to autopilot – it’s 7am; I write at 7am – means you’re more likely to just sit down and begin.  And it might just free up a few neurons to come up with creative ideas – even when you’re not in the shower.

Progress: unpicking the knot

I’ve written over 3,000 words today.  Mostly just notes, and thoughts to follow up, but still – 3,000 words.  Does it matter?

If I’d only written 100 words, would I be feeling as positive as I do now?  Well, yes.  The point is to make progress.

Over the last few days (weeks, really) I’ve been making progress, but mostly in my head.  Thinking things through, working things out.  It didn’t feel like progress at the time, but now that the words are spilling out of me, I can see that I needed that time of seeming inaction, of stuckness.  Like unpicking a tight knot: there’s a period of time where you pick and pick and nothing seems to give, until eventually you feel that slight loosening that gives you hope.

If I’d written 100 words today, it would still feel like progress.  Because now I have a glimmer of an idea of where I’m going.

It’s always a rat’s nest before it’s done

Do you ever think about how one part of your life can inform another?

In my other life I spend a lot of time writing grant applications.  (For organisations, not for me!)  There’s a bit of a formula to it, a structure imposed either by an application form or by the funder’s guidelines.  I slot things in here and there, working out the best place to mention this bit of the project and the best way to ‘sell’ its importance.  I make notes to myself and my collaborators in brackets: “(We need to mention the links with X here)”; “(I’m not sure what this means – can you explain?)”; “(Is this actually true?)”  I move paragraphs about and work on some of them in separate documents.  Sometimes I start again.

And these are the things I know:

It always looks like a rat’s nest before it’s finished.

I always reach a point where I think, this time I can’t make it work.

I always manage it in the end.

So why, oh why, do I expect my creative writing to be any different?  Why should I be surprised and discouraged because I read through something I’ve written and realise it’s not what I thought it was when I was writing it?  Why should I expect it to flow from my fingers with ease?

Writing is a stop-start thing.  Sometimes it flows, but then you hit a bump and maybe you just have to put a note in brackets, “(something about badgers in here)”, and come back to it later.  Eventually you’ll always have to stop and edit, and sometimes you’ll realise the best editing you can do is the kind that starts with a fresh blank page and a fresh cup of tea.

And, for me this week, the best lesson from all of this is that sometimes you have to take what you know from the rest of your life and apply it to your creative writing.  In my grants writing, I work best within a structure, even if I change that structure seventeen times in an afternoon.  Doesn’t this tell me that my creative brain would also thank me for a bit of structure?  And it also helps my creative brain to remember this pearl of wisdom from my grants-writing self:

It’s always a rat’s nest before it’s done.  And that’s ok.

An invitation to play

Open up an imaginary bag in front of you. Just for a while, put into it your judgement and self-criticism; the mental to-do list you’re continually adding to; your ticking inner clock; your need to be right and sensible and useful. Add anything else that feels heavy. Then zip up the invisible bag and put it to one side.

Grab a pen – any pen – and paper, nothing fancy.

Lie down on your belly on the floor, pen in hand and paper in front of you. Kicking your heels in the air is optional, but it helps release the child inside.

(I appreciate that getting down to floor level may not be as easy as it once was, but there are alternatives: sitting on a beanbag; curling up in a corner of the sofa; even sitting on a cushion and leaning against the wall. But do try the floor if you possibly can. Your child-mind will respond.)

Write.

Write words you like; write a story about goblins and fairies; write something that makes you laugh; write a poem where the first letter of every line spells your favourite rude word. It doesn’t matter what you write. It only matters that you do it. It’s not work, it’s play.

Enjoy your playing, and when you’ve finished, go and bake chocolate chip fairy cakes.

Rusty

Yes, we get rusty.  We take time away from our writing and we forget how.  We pursue shiny new ideas that have nothing to do with our creative dreams.  But eventually we come back.  We always come back.

We come back and nothing is right.  Ideas are clunky, word choices even more so.

The urge to stop and do something – anything – else is strong.  After all, there are so very many other things that need to be done.

But the only cure for this is to keep going.  To fill the waste paper bin if we must, but keep going.  Even when every word has to be dragged from the depths.  Even when those hard-won words will never see the light of day.

The only cure is to keep going.

I will if you will.