Writers need down time. You cannot churn out prose or poetry continuously. Yes, you need a routine, and yes you should write every day if possible, not just when the muse strikes you. But you must have some time to be nurtured.
I read once that Dickens used to write until 2. 00 .p.m., then go for a long walk. At 5 00 p.m. he would go to a local inn for a drink or two before either going home for dinner or eating with friends. I'm not sure whether this can be right since I've also read a biography of him that made him out to be an extremely busy man. But if that routine is correct, I envy him. It meant writing for six hours a day yet having plenty of time and opportunity to be sociable and to observe life.
The final session of my first semester on my MA course was spent at Winchester cathedral and then in the ancient pub behind it. We had been instructed to walk around the cathedral and speak to no one. We were not to have any preconceived ideas of what would happen. It was hard not to giggle when we saw one of our classmates but otherwise it worked. I began to see the cathedral as I'd never seen it before. And the lights outside. I experienced the rain on my skin as if I'd never felt it before. My first fiction assignment became a short story about a teenage alien coming to Winchester. It passed and it has since been published.
After our lecturers had gone from the pub, however, we spent some time discussing how bonkers they were.
A couple of years ago, at the end of a workshop module with my own Masters students, my colleague and I set a similar task at Media City UK, Salford Quays. It’s a quirky sort of place anyway. Our students were set off to roam for a couple of hours. We met up in one of the bars at the end of the evening. We could tell by the way that they looked at us that they thought we'd lost the plot as well.
Yet they produced some excellent work and many of them referred to this event in their statement of poetics.
Those eureka and epiphany moments often come when we're busy doing almost nothing. Archimedes had his in the bath and Poincaré as he stepped on to a tourist bus. I find my brightest ideas often come when I'm ironing, walking, cooking, driving or swimming but I can always trace them back to a time when I was doing absolutely nothing.
I love to go into town on the tram. I rarely look at my phone or try to read. I don't deliberately look for ideas but plenty come from my people-watching. You see, I am busy doing nothing.
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