Slow days gardening with pen and paper

Sunflower chairI have been quiet on this blog for a longish while, and every so often I have remembered this with a ping  of regret, even guilt. But then I have shrugged and carried on with silence, because realistically, in real life it is impossible for writers to do what we do best (write) while keeping up with what the modern world has come to expect of us. By that I mean blogging, tweeting, devising interesting Face Book posts, sending and answering email, when we are already so far behind with downloading phone photographs and backing up digital files, when just keeping up with what has been written and published in the past year is nigh on impossible.

I long ago decided my writing life was far too short for tweeting, and I never have. The blog is different: it is useful for mopping up the overflow of thoughts, or for exploring ideas that don’t quite fit anywhere else. At least one blog post, although completed, has never been posted, because halfway through writing it I realised  it could probably be published in the paper world. (I sent it out, and it is now happily nestled in a beautiful anthology, the Sleepers Almanac #9.)

As for the months of silence, as well as not always having something pressing to say (and I was told as a child that in that case it is wisest to say nothing) I have been working on a long form non-fiction project that involves a mountain of research and many site visits. Once in the writing zone, it has been easier to stay there, to try and get the job done before coming up for air.

So why am I posting now? Well, I am coming towards the end, and I have hit a lull between chapters; I am gathering strength for another assault on the archives — all those hard-to-read documents on micro-fiche that make me feel I must need stronger glasses. The work is endlessly fascinating, though as slow as watching paint dry, or seeds germinate. But then fast writing is strictly for social media, for ephemeral email, it does not belong to the world of pen and paper or the lasting world of the book.

Speaking of seeds, I grew the sunflower in the photograph above from a seed given to me by my mother. I nurtured it through the seedling stage, the potting-on and planting out, and watered it through last summer’s heat-wave until it stood six feet tall. When its flower faded I left it to set seed, and I will sow from it again next spring. Perhaps next time I will raise a whole bed of sunflowers; I will spend the long hot afternoons on the verandah watching their faces follow the path of the sun — dreaming is an indispensable part of gardening, as it is of writing.

Seeing the dried flower head there on the table as I drink my cup of tea, it strikes me that the process of growing a sunflower is a bit like writing a novel or a story. It starts with the germ of an idea that must then be nurtured; in good time it flowers gloriously. As well as the joy of having the finished work, I often find that the thoughts it has sparked, the pathways one has followed on all those slow days with pen and paper, contain enough ideas to seed a whole new garden of writing.

My non-fiction holds the prospect of a second volume, and it has also yielded the material for a novella, which I am longing to write. Then there are the novels that need further drafting, the notes towards stories and essays not yet written. As slow days are needed in great quantity, I will post as and when I can.

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This entry was published on June 4, 2014 at 2:13 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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