All this snow, spread out like a blank page, feels to me like an invitation to write - to start something completely different.
Perhaps you'll take a fresh look at your work-in-progress, get fired up to finally finish your novel or complete your collection of poems.
Returning to my notebook and computer after the wonderful lazy days of Christmas I'm excited by the sight of clean white paper and a bright blank screen. There are doubts too - aren't there always? Starting something new tends to induce a mixture of excitement and apprehension.
The exciting bit is fine. That's when you don't notice the time passing. Not so good is when the doubts creep in, when that fresh white sheet starts to look like slush with so many crossings out: Will this mish mash of scenes ever make a novel? Yeah, great description but is it a poem?
So, you stop. What - giving up so soon? As Jane reminded me recently [see her comment's at the end of the interview with Bronia] Alan Bennett says, "you're only a writer when you're writing." I remember Zadie Smith telling an audience that she says, "I write," rather than, "I'm a writer."
Yes, it's getting the words down that counts. So, how to dump the doubt get the words flowing again?
Why not take a short break [I know, you're now not writing, but stick with this, you soon will be] and seek the company of a fellow writer? Before Christmas I had a cup of coffee in the company of Paul Auster. After less than half an hour, having listened to what he had to say, I returned eagerly to my desk. Oh, yes, and Zadie Smith bucked me up no end last week.
I keep the company of writers close to hand in the form of books by writers about writing and their writing lives. 'Writerly comment' as opposed to literary criticism. Insights from the inside of the writing life and the writing process. The gold standard classic for me is A Writer's Diary: being extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf, Edited by Leonard Woolf.
If you had book tokens in your Christmas stocking you might want to spend them on some good company. Here are a few titles I can recommend.
The Gift, by Lewis Hyde. "I tell every writer they must read this book," said Margaret Atwood during a Q & A session at the ICA more years ago than I can remember. It was pre-email, pre-Amazon. I scribbled down author and title but found it was only available in America and gave up. For years the scrap of paper with the details was pinned to my corkboard. In 2006 when Canongate - urged on by Atwood it seems - published the book here I finally bought it. Though written in 1979 its message is more vital today given the way the recession has hit publishing. Hyde shows that there is value in all of the writing you choose to give out and, perhaps, a price to be paid if you hold it back. It's no self-help or 'how to' but a thoughtful book on the implications of choosing, or not choosing to write.
Changing My Mind, by Zadie Smith. Smith, one of many authors who gave a glowing recommendation on the cover of The Gift, has recently published her own collection of essays. Reading the piece called 'That Crafty Feeling' was how I got to be cheered up by Zadie last week. There's also a wonderful section on the work of the late David Foster Wallace. It includes some inspirational quotes from interviews with him. This book is definitely one for the 'good company' shelf. Smith is intelligent, witty but above all so readable.
Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter, both by Heather Sellers. If you want something a bit more hands-on then try these two titles. Sellers has taught for years on university creative writing programmes in the States. These books are pitched at that market, so you might find yourself, like me, biting your tongue at her use of the word 'sucks' as in, "you think your writing sucks." But get beneath that and these are gems - part memoir, part meditation on the art of writing, part motivational manual. Each short chapter lasts a cup of coffee.
The Paris Review Interviews. These are also published by Canongate and there are now 4 volumes. The interview with Paul Auster that I mentioned is in Vol 4, just out. These include interviews with poets too. They're packed with wonderful insight into some of the most remarkable writing lives of the last fifty years and more.
Writing Poetry: the expert guide, by Fiona Sampson. This is a recent addition to my shelves, published last year. Despite its somewhat grandiose sub-title [well, Sampson is a prolific poet and editor of Poetry Review so we may forgive her] this is a series of thoughtful, intelligent and entirely approachable chapters that speak from the inside of the process of writing poetry. I particularly enjoyed the chapter 'Creative Disobedience' - has your page turned to slush because you are trying to be too polite, too rule-bound in your writing? Another Alan Bennett gem comes to mind: he's talked of wanting be more "vulgar" in his writing instead of "timidly toeing the line."
A cup of coffee, and dip into one of these and you'll soon be back at the keyboard. Or, why not try unpacking the suitcases in the new writing prompt I posted yesterday?
Happy Writing New Year ...