I feel guilty for not writing enough in the same way that I feel guilty for not spending enough time with my beautiful little girl: every day I long to write more and every day I long to be there more for her. I suspect that, in both domains, there is no such thing as enough.
However, unlike the absolute nature of physical absence, the absence of putting words on the page does not preclude the writer from the act of creation.
What goes into our writing? Our perceptions, our experiences, our quirky mental asides, our encounters, the things and people we see and touch and smell and hear in taste. Remember the yellow corduroy hat that Petros wears in What Milo Saw? That came from a 20 minute bus ride when I sat next to a wonderful, wizened old man who had emigrated to England from Greece. I knew, straight way, that I’d met one of my characters.
On one of those crazy dashing around days when writing anything more than Just Five Minutes seemed impossible, I came to an important conclusion: as writers (true, stories-and-words-run-in-our-blood writers), we can be writing all the time. That putting a squiggle on a page or typing a word on our laptops is only one part of the process.
In other words, every single part of us goes into our stories. The key is to be alert, to be looking and ready to receive what the world has to offer.
This is why, on most mornings, Monday mornings in particular, I go through a little ritual. It only takes a second or two. Those moments between when I wake up and when I swing my legs out of bed, I tell myself: today, you’re going to learn something new about the novel you’re writing. If I can, I try to be specific: a knot in my plot, a dimension to a character I need to develop, a relationship that needs a stronger, truer connection. I throw out my questions into the world’s well, rally my imagination, my curiosity and my senses and promise myself to listen out for the echo.
So, whether I’m teaching Hamlet to my Lower Sixth Class or sitting in a meeting or cycling up to the shops or driving or meeting a stranger on a train or phoning my mum, a pocket of my brain is open to receive ideas.
As writers, we set off on each day much as archaeologists set off on their digs: we put on our muddy boots, our trench coats, pack our shovels and our maps and ready ourselves to dig up some bones: the treasure and truth of our stories.
Challenge: As you set off on your Monday, throw out your questions to the world, keep every part of you open – and be ready to receive the gifts that will weave themselves into your story. For this too is writing.