Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Mind shot again, but for a very wonderful reason: two thousand words. There were traces of waffle and self-indulgence, and possibly a tangent too far, but it was a GOOD work day. I say this not to brag and swank, but because the fallow days are still a dark shadow in my memory. It is stated with a sort of incredulous, breathless relief. If I believed in them, I would send up a supplicating, humble prayer of gratitude to the writing gods, for suddenly smiling where they had been smiting.
It's one thing getting the groove back, but, as the lovely England cricketers so politely and firmly say, I know that I cannot get complacent. In writing, as in cricket, anything can happen. I have to concentrate and work hard. I am currently deploying two excellent secret weapons; one old, one new.
The old one is the first thing I say to my students, when I give my annual writing workshop during our village's summer arts festival. (Isn't it lovely to have a village that gives an arts festival?) It is the best writing advice I ever heard, and the cornerstone of the whole thing. It is: allow yourself to do a really shitty first draft. Even though I bang on about this until people start looking green about the gills and gazing mournfully at the exit, sometimes I forget to apply it to myself.
I think it is part of the paradox of having been writing for a long time. It is one thing to tell my neophyte students that this is the most crucial thing, but I am supposed to be a hoary old pro. I think there is a suspicion in my mind that I should be past all that by now, that I must be able to produce something polished and pristine at the very first go. It should cohere, right off the bat. Come on, if I don't know what I am doing by now, I might as well pull stumps and give up on the whole thing.
This is what the shrinks call a wrong construction. I think the correct deduction is that the more you go at it, the more experience you gather, the more years you have under your belt, the more you should embrace the vital aspect of the rotten first draft.
It is to do with liberty. The freer you feel to hurl everything at the page, without the intervention of the cross editorial voice, the better the final work will be. On a very basic level, you will have so much more to work with. If the inner critic is constantly saying no, no, that won't do, you are cribbed and confined from the very start. You will miss the emeralds that lie hidden in the dung. It is rather like the brilliant Jungian contradiction that it is in the shadow side of ourselves that we find the light. Deny the inner darkness, which every human holds, and you will never find the gold.
The second secret weapon is: Handel. When I am in a good writing mood, I quite often listen to Mozart as I work. I read somewhere that his symphonies literally light up the creative parts of the brain. (Clever scientists have done MRI scans.) When I am castigating myself, I go into stony silence, as if I am so hopeless that I am not allowed the slightest sliver of pleasure. Today, I thought I might have a change from old Wolfie, so I put on The Messiah. As the New College Choir sang And he shall purify, I bash bash bashed away at the keyboard as if I had all the words in the world.
And just time for two tiny tangents on a theme:
I once sang in the Messiah, when I was thirteen, at Malmesbury Abbey, which was lit entirely with candles. I was an alto. It was one of the most memorable moments of my young life.
And, amazingly, I discover today that Handel wrote it in 24 days, when he was in debt and caught in the doldrums of depression. This feels like a sign or a confirmation. See? See? Even Handel hit the wall, and he managed to write one of the most sublime things in the history of music, which sounds as glorious today as it did two hundred and sixty years ago. I shall remember that, the next time the black dog comes and barks at me.
You can see I am rambling now. It is time to stop and give you snow pictures.
The trees, the trees:
There has been no more snow for a couple of days, but incredible frosts, as hard as minus 17, so now everything glitters as if someone has scattered handfuls of diamonds everywhere. It is hard to reproduce in pictures, but you might get a slight sense of it here:
Also, there is a pervading element of blueness:
And then the marvellous flashes of deep amber from the old beech leaves, still clinging on:
SNOW DOGS in action:
And ready for their close-up:
Many of you have said exceptionally kind things about the dogs, even those of you who mostly love The Cats. This is very lucky, since I seem incapable of not putting up pictures of them EVERY SINGLE DAY. It started off as a bit of a joke; oh, I'll just put up an amusing dog photograph, ha ha. Just occasionally, for fun, because I am not one of those dog bores, who goes on and on and on, oh no. Turns out: I am. Talk about having to come to terms with one's foibles.