The problem with books

Let me take you on a little tour of my bookshelves.  Just the ones in this room; if we go through the whole house we’ll be here all day.

Here are the work-related ones.  These are not the problem ones.  They aren’t many and they don’t get opened much but are particularly useful for pinching ideas from when I have to deal with a new subject or remind myself of things I used to know.

The problem ones are the knitting ones…

…the sewing ones…

…the historical ones I’ve been using for writing research…

…and the writing and creativity ones.  No, don’t touch the pile; there may be an avalanche and it would take days to dig you out.

If you added up all the time I’ve spent reading these books you’d have a big number of hours.  If you added up all the time I’ve spent actually knitting, sewing, writing – I fear you’d have a much smaller number of hours.

And that’s the problem with books.  They trick you into thinking that reading about doing something is the same as actually doing it.

Positive thinking and how to begin

Sometimes when you really read that inspiring quote, you find it doesn’t quite give the message you thought it did.  You know words are my thing – they have to be right!

Here’s one I found recently:

“If you must begin, then go all the way, because if you begin and quit, the unfinished business you have left behind you begins to haunt you all the time.”(Trungpa Rinpoche – I read this as an extract in a book that wasn’t the original source, so can’t tell you anything about him I’m afraid. But I’ve been pondering his words.)

At first I thought, “yes – encouragement to do, to move forward, to simply begin.”  And I think that’s probably how it was meant.  But then I read it again and it sounds a little threatening.  Surely, if unfinished business comes back to haunt you, it’s safer to not begin at all?  The advice sounds rather like we should only begin if we’re absolutely sure we can finish what we start – and how many of us can be sure of that?

But we do like to be sure, don’t we?  We want to know where we’re going before we set out.  Not only that, we want to know exactly how we’re going to get there.  So often we hear or read the advice (attributed to Laurence J Peter), “if you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

Maybe.  But somewhere else might turn out to be better!  And what happened to simply enjoying the journey?  Surely it’s better to just begin – to take that single step, write that first paragraph, pick up that piece of clay – and enjoy the adventure of the journey, rather than to sit and wait until every piece is meticulously planned?  Where’s the magic in that?

And, speaking of magic, here’s a much more uplifting piece of advice about beginnings which I think we should all follow, today:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
P.S. As an aside, that final quotation is often attributed to Goethe, but in looking it up just now to make sure I’d got it right, I discovered that he sort of wrote it, but mostly didn’t.  (I wouldn’t know; I’ve never read anything by Goethe any more than I’ve read Socrates.  I just like a good turn of phrase.)  Go here and here if you’re interested.


A lot’s been written about ideas and where to find them.  I like this post, and this one (especially the thought of God getting in a huff, taking ideas off Michael Jackson and giving them to Prince!), but there are many more.

Hanging out the washing gets me every time – it’s a good job we have a stack of paper for writing shopping lists which lives just inside the back door, as I’m forever popping back in to jot down some phrase or other.

It’s difficult to make notes while riding a bike, but I need to put a notebook in my saddlebag to catch the butterfly ideas that follow me wherever I ride.  They have a habit of flying off to settle elsewhere by the time I get home.

I’ve used the word serendipity before, and make no apology for using it again.  As I said then, it’s a great word – and a great source of ideas.  Writing – and pretty much any creative endeavour – involves stitching together seemingly random thoughts, ideas, events, words… But you need another of my favourite words, intuition, to take advantage of it.

A few days ago I was reading a book (I can’t remember which, and it’s not really relevant as by the time we get to the end of this very long sentence we will be far away from the source anyway), which sent me off on a train of thought which, via Tai Chi and several other now-forgotten mental stepping stones, reminded me of another book, Chop Wood Carry Water, which I’d borrowed from a friend years ago but couldn’t remember much about, but I ordered it anyway because it felt like the right thing to do, and then promptly forgot about it until it arrived in the post today while I was writing a series of blog posts about beginnings, at which point I opened it to a random page (doesn’t everyone do that? – that and start reading at the end!) which happened to be in a chapter stuffed full of great quotes and insights about…beginnings.

Intuition told me I wanted to read the book again; then serendipity worked its magic.  Good job I was listening.

What are your themes?

So you know what your thing is?  The thing that’s been with you since the beginning?  Is there a theme within it?

My secret reading list includes all of the Little House on the Prairie books, The Mists of Avalon and Duncton Wood, amongst many, many others.  If I step back there are similar themes running through so many of them:

Domesticity and home life

History and prehistory


Searching my reading list reminds me what my writing list should include.  Those themes are the themes of my heart, and writing has to come from the heart.