There are days when I don’t feel like addressing the blank page. They are a rarity, but I can’t help wondering why they exist at all. So when the current work seems to be ignoring my efforts to engage, instinct says explore the reason. Conclusion: it has to be built into the writer’s nature. I imagine racing drivers have days when they don’t feel competitive, and deep sea divers wake up some mornings and just fancy poling a punt down the river by way of a change… Even so, I’ve spent long hours in lecture theatres assuring students that drive and will-power will get them there every time.
If I were doing one of those horrible presentations (downstairs room in a conference centre off the M40 – you know the kind of thing) I’d head this: ROUTINE. DISCIPLINE. FOCUS. A cohort of smart, bespectacled graduates would assume enthusiastic body language and prepare to take notes. I would deliver a scathing assault on those who aspire to be writers, with assurances that without extraordinary qualities their chances are roughly those of an aardvark winning the Grand National.
I would tell them that at the very least YOU MUST WRITE EVERY DAY. Days off don’t work: you lose your thread; you leave characters lying about all over the story and forget where they were, what they were doing and what the devil they meant by it anyway; you can even forget their names. When you return to The Work after days off, it’s like getting to know them all over again.
So DAYS OFF are not acceptable. What’s my excuse? Oh, there are many of course. I had a lot on my mind (Yeah, right); I was feeling under the weather (Yeah… same); relatives arrived from Australia (Really? People generally respect your work ethic, so don’t take shelter under that one). The truth, as we all know, is I JUST DIDN’T FEEL LIKE IT.
So shrug off the guilt, admit you were (a) at the seaside (b) temporarily stunned by falling masonry (c) very drunk, and get on with it. As I aim to, right now…
This has been a private lecture aimed at the mirror. I always keep a mirror on my desk – partly out of vanity, mainly because it’s the best piece of equipment for writing dialogue.