The Writing Begins
Updated: May 6, 2021
Work begins on the new book. I know the book in the amorphous way a father knows a secretive child, mostly. It is latent. I wake up 4am, with an idea for a passage that develops as I lie there so I jump out of bed, rush to my desk and get it down. As I am writing the blackbird starts to sing, it is still pitch black. I write for 45 minutes then back to bed for an hour or two. This will happen time and time again as my subconscious turns over all the fragments of what I am working on. Already the book is twice as long as it needs to be but most of it is notes and 90% of it will be cut and maybe turned into something else.
When I was young I started keeping sketchbooks because I was good at drawing back then, but I got seduced by conceptual art, John Lathams burning towers of books and Keith Arnatt’s invisible sculptures and ‘art and language’s language as art, and over time I ended up writing more than I was drawing. Eventually my sketchbooks became notebooks full of words and ideas for artworks that never become solid because once I’d had the idea, actually making the thing and using up space and materials and further polluting the earth and the visual landscape with yet more crap that somebody would have to deal with became meaningless. So I was pulled by gravity back to my first love, words. I write far too many of them, I write the same thing over and over again in different ways just as I drew the same faces over and over again from different angles. It works in art, it doesn’t work in a book, or at least I have tried to make it work but it confuses readers and I get called repetitive. So I’m giving that up because a writer needs happy readers or he hasn’t got any and has to find another job or starve.
My clock is set for 0730 but I will wake well before that and lie there then sit at my desk for a while and read what I’ve written and write some more, then yoga for half an hour to get rid of the writers hump and meditation to tune myself into the day, shower, dressing, breakfast, back to the desk for an hour or two, walk for an hour, eating, reading, to slow myself down get in the zone and build the focus. Then writing, writing at all hours. Going to bed at all hours, in the afternoon, after dinner, after breakfast, getting up and writing or reading or cooking or walking, meditating, yoga. All these things every day, nothing else. I am going to get lonely and probably end up oversharing on twitter because of it, then deleting, I delete a lot.
But first I must ‘clear the decks’, clear the desk, clear my desktop of everything that I have been reading recently, tidy the pens, find somewhere to put all the other junk that collects there, photographs, cameras, I have far too many cameras - and line up my all my notebooks. Easy.
Then I get am email from a literary magazine who published some of my poems a couple of years ago, could I write a piece about landscape, 500 - 2000 words. They are doing a feature and I would be ideal, they say nice things about my work and although it is unpaid I do not feel that I can refuse, we have a relationship. I see it as an opportunity to support them as they have supported me but also it is an opportunity to get my work in front of a few more people and maybe find a few more readers. I’ll be able to use the article in a collection of essays and photographs I’m planning to put together at some time. So I say yes, it takes me four days to write the piece, I experiment with different angles and eventually, inspired by Richard Long I write about how walking can be an art. I send it off and they say excellent, thank you so much! Just as I am finishing the piece I get another email. This time from Canada, a newspaper wants a piece about how my social class has affected my relationship with the landscape. ‘Seed to Dust’ comes out there in May and the piece would coincide with publication. Of course I say yes. 850 words. I do like to write essays and perhaps eventually I will revert to only writing essays. I think it is a fine literary form that should be more widely read. This one says there is a small honorarium, it doesn’t say how much. I don’t ask. I’ll write for anybody, well nearly anybody, if they pay me.
Marketing your work as a writer is massively important. The market is so crowded these days as it is in every other walk of life, life is more competitive than it has been at any time in the past. So as a writer you have to do your bit to support your own work. From live events at book fairs and bookshops and festivals and social media. For my last book there were no events because of lockdown so I gave away packets of seed I collected from flowers in my garden to readers on Twitter. I wanted to say thank you for reading my work, just as I would have done had I met them in a writers tent or indie bookshop. Thank you, I miss you.