I’ve been really struck this week by how as a writer one is flipping all the time between inner and outer worlds. Perhaps this is because I have recently had my head down working on a first draft for a new book.
Last week I spent the whole week at home, at my desk, staring at the screen, my fingers busily tapping out the words. Sometimes they came quickly, sometimes they slowed right down, but nevertheless I sat there and worked to try and get the thoughts and pictures and feelings that were all abstractly swilling around in my head down onto the page in some semblance of a story.
And then, on Friday, I left the house.
It was fairly late in the afternoon, and I was dashing to get somewhere in the car, and I got stuck in traffic on Kew Bridge. And stopping in the traffic as I did, stopped me; I was forced for a moment to look around. I looked over the bridge at the trees and they were literally glowing, bathed as they were in a dying golden autumnal light. I looked at the River Thames, dull and dirty, but no less beautiful below, and at the wide open sky that hung over it all, and for a moment I was completely struck by the world. In fact, so much so that it made me feel a little moment of wonder, a little moment of joy. And I realised that I’d been so immersed all week in my inner world, the world of the story inside my head, that I’d sort of forgotten that there was a significant brilliant real world out there that was full of beauty and possibility… How could I have forgotten that?
“Wonder doesn’t require a passport, it only requires your attention.”
Late Fragments, Kate Grosse
As a writer, just like other writers, past and present, I know that without doubt I get my ideas from the world around me – this strange, sometimes complicated, but often beautiful outer world. In a sense all writing begins and ends with what we do and don’t know about the world we live in, and our curiosity in exploring that, and seeing where our imaginations might take us from there, is what more often than not drives a story. So I think perhaps last week was a good lesson for me…
Certainly to be a writer you need to be disciplined, and you need to immerse yourself in the inner world of your story, and you need to invest the time to graft. But perhaps sometimes it’s best not to keep your head down completely, not to sit at your desk for too long. Sometimes what you need is to actually get up and out into the world, and remind yourself where it was your story most likely started. After all, this is the place that you’ll not only find the possibility for joy and wonder, it’s also the place you are likely to find your next story, and so too the one after that.