Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The mystery of where the groove comes from, and other life lessons

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Another mammoth working day; 1137 words of book. I have been out of the groove lately, doing far too much research, which is of course part of the job, but can become a shield to hide behind when the writing is not going well. I got into a terrible trough of typing three hundred words, realising they were perfectly awful, deleting them, writing three hundred more, and trashing those too. Non-writers may wonder how it can take two years to write one little book; this is why.

I get into cycles of marvellousness. The ideas rain down like hailstones, and I only have to catch them. My fingers race along the keyboard, as if someone has inserted a superhuman typing chip in my brain. It will always be like this, I start to think. I begin to know how Kerouac wrote On the Road in three weeks. Then, just as my hubris fires me up into the stratosphere, I smash back down to earth. I refuse ever to admit that I get block; that is a word I will not countenance. But the feeling is like driving very fast into an immovable brick wall. Everything stops. I am beset by demons; the fear genie flies out of the woods and settles on my shoulder, cackling into my ear.

I start setting myself impossible targets, which only makes everything worse. Tomorrow, I tell myself, I shall bash through the log-jam by writing three thousand words; that will make up for the fallow time. The next day I get up, and find my mind blank. I cudgel and pummel it, but all it will produce is paltry nothingness. This is when the spiral of shame hits. I am supposed to be a professional; I may not admit any of this. I actually teach writing, after all. I have read all the primers; I have been doing this for more years than I dare count; by now I must be a finely tuned machine. If I admit that the days of uselessness are piling up into weeks, then people will shriek and point, and I shall be unmasked as a fraud. I will never work in this town again.

I have a stupid terror of admitting to weakness. This is entirely idiotic and counter-intuitive, since I sincerely believe that it is our human flaws that make us lovable. Shiny impervious perfection just makes people bounce off you; it is a force field that repels rather than invites. No one wants to spend any time with someone who is invincible; it's the dullest thing in the world. In theory, I celebrate flakiness and goofiness and absurdity. It is what I like in other people; it is what makes them interesting. But when it comes to myself, I sometimes forget all this, and instead wield a stupid stick of self-recrimination, hitting myself over the head in an orgy of remonstration.

Yesterday, for no apparent reason, I got my groove back. Today, I wrote and wrote, and some of the words were even half-decent ones. That is why I can tell you all about my days of shame. It is why I can welcome myself back to the human race, where people are imperfect, and cannot produce glorious, shining sentences every damn day.


In other news, my mother calls. It turns out she is as thrilled by England's glorious victory in the second Ashes test as I am. She is impressed by the players' athletic skills, but much more delighted by their good manners.

'They are all so polite, those boys,' she says.

It is true. In interviews, even after smashing records, and producing double hundreds, and taking three wickets in a row, they are all courteous, self-deprecating, quick to give credit to anyone but themselves, and prone to making little jokes, mostly about their own foibles. Interestingly, they all mention the word 'work' a lot. We worked hard, they say; there's a lot of work still to do; the lads really worked on that. They must have all started off with a great deal of natural talent; one of his old teachers said of Alistair Cook said that even when very young he could see the ball quicker than anyone else. With this emphasis on work, it is as if they are saying: it's all very well being born with a bit of flair, but if you do not labour and practice and concentrate, you will just fritter it away. I think: yes, yes, that is a lesson for life, right there, from a slightly unexpected source.

'They must all have marvellous mothers,' says my mum, who thinks about the mothers a lot. 'They are so well brought up.'

'Here's to the mothers,' I say, 'and all who sail in them.'

And here is to my mother, who insists on believing that I am wonderful and brilliant, even on the days when I am convinced that I cannot write my way out of a paper bag. This partial notion is of course empirically incorrect, but I love that she doggedly goes on thinking it.

Talking of things that go on doggedly loving one, no matter what:

7th Dec 10

7th Dec 9-1

And your now traditional snow pictures -

The burn:

7th Dec 2

The beloved trees:

7th Dec 3

7th Dec 4

The view from my garden, looking south through the Scots pines:

7th Dec 6

East, to the wellingtonias:

7th Dec 9

And south again:

7th Dec 11

The silver birches look almost like something from the deep south, with their Tennessee Williams hanging branches:

7th Dec 13

This is a young horse chestnut, bravely defying the weather:

7th Dec 14

I love the faint flashes of colour from the old leaves, still hanging on, and the merest glimpse of the blue hill behind:

7th Dec 15

I find the pattern that the black branches make against the snow oddly fascinating; this makes me think of an abstract painting:

7th Dec 16

I am unable to resist two more shots of the ladyships, in all their unvarying beauty:

7th Dec 8

7th Dec 7

It is minus ten here today. Heavenly stepfather says his thermometer reads a balmy minus nine; mine insists on minus ten. 'Must be a frost pocket,' he says. But we do not complain, as we contemplate the horror of the poor people who were stuck on the M80 yesterday for TWELVE HOURS. I get to stay inside, with four jumpers on, and a good heater, listening to a talented gentleman singing Every valley must be exalted, which is what I am doing now, and I do not take that for granted. I hope you are warm, wherever you are.


  1. It is such sweet relief to read this. Everything sounds so familiar, the torture of it all, the head-banging, the berating, the not being able to share it with anyone (1st world problems and all that). Thank GOODNESS you wrote this post today.
    And congratulations!
    Miss W x

  2. Lovely post Tania - glad to hear the writing is flowing, and the pictures are beautiful as always.
    I am very glad I am in a place that is merely very frosty for now. The first thing I did today was phone my mother, to be sure that she was not one of the people stranded on the M80. I was sure she would not be, but you fret about your mother. The parents are, happily, safe in their house with at least a week's supply of food. As is my dear sister-in-law, who trudged home 10 miles across Glasgow, through the snow, as there was simply no other way of getting there.

  3. A 'clever' husband placed a thermometer on the inside of a south facing kitchen window (Aga in the kitchen) I still say Brrrrrrrrrr

  4. I can only imagine what that must be like. You're on a wondrous writing journey and then all too quickly thoughts disappear into the ether and you're left wondering if and when they may come back.

    Well in the meantime you can gaze at those beautiful dogs which I never tire of seeing. xx

  5. The plight nicely stated, wickedly good photos.

  6. This was very timely. I have been fighting unsuccessfully against the feeling of nobody-loves-me-no-work-so-am-useless - it normally sorts itself out, but I panic when freelance work takes a nosedive - and when somebody I revere as much expresses the same feelings, it's so reassuring. It would be easy to tell you not to worry and it will be OK; so I really should be able to tell myself the same... Thank you.

  7. Canna sleep so let's get the day started (it's 3.30am) by turning on the computer and popping into my favourite blog! The snow pictures are wonderful - that burn picture! It's rain, rain and more rain here; drought-breaking rain. Although it's warm, everything's wet and damp. We can't open the windows because of the mist. The desalination plant that has cost zillions has been put into cold storage, dam gates opened, tanks are overflowing, frogs are croaking...

  8. Miss W - what a most lovely message all the way from California. Yes, yes, the first world problems: how DARE one complain. Also do you think perhaps it's a slightly British thing? So it's a huge relief to have yr response to my little wail.

    Mona - so pleased the parents are warm, but oh oh the poor sister-in-law. *empathises madly*

    Ladybird - yes, yes, brrr with knobs on.

    So Lovely - it really is lucky you do not tire of the dogs, since I seem determined to feature them now every single day. Makes me smile that you enjoy their dear faces as much as I do. :)

    Bumby Scott - not only incredibly kind but also very pithy comment. Thank you so much.

    Cassie - thank YOU. Odd how much relief is to be found in knowing one is not the only one.

    Connie - love the word picture, especially the croaking frogs. Very sweet of you to call the blog yr favourite; a most prized compliment.

  9. Beautiful post. And beautiful pictures of girls and trees and snow. As always.

  10. Em - you are so very kind. Thank you.

  11. Glad that your writing is flowing no gushing I think. Good for you.

    Your mum sounds like my mum who thinks I can do anything anytime anywhere and alone if need be!!!

    And thank you ever so much for the photographs. I feel I know those two dogs now as well as I do my own.

    Its raining in Melbourne after days of sun. Typical Melbourne weather. You never know how it will turn. Not cold though.

  12. What a lovely post. I don't have words fit for commenting on it but really enjoyed it.


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