It is undeniably brilliant to be a Poet in Residence here. Every day I get up and eat breakfast that someone else has cooked, leave the dishes and scuttle off to write in one of the most beautiful, wooden beamed, book-scented libraries I have ever been in. After lunch I take a walk around the village in one direction or another, and then come back to write more or read until dinner time.
I’m a self-employed writer in my life outside the Library too, but most of my time there is spent juggling jobs, deadlines and projects and applying for more things to help me pay the bills. In residence at the Library, I feel like a ‘real’ writer, who actually spends their time putting pen to paper and hanging around for inspiration to strike.
It is perhaps not surprising at all, then, that as well as writing I have used this opportunity to apply excessive pressure to myself to perform and ‘be productive’ in a way I would not do at home. The reason behind this appears to be the luxury of having the thing I seem to want most of all when I don’t have it – time to write. A whole month of turning up every day and trying to write your best work is quite a daunting thing; to be able to make the most of this excellent opportunity I’ve needed to be exceedingly kind to myself, so here is some advice for taking care of yourself while embarking on such an endeavour.
Firstly, learn to hold a paradox in your mind, which is this: it matters a lot that you make time to write every day, that you show up with a pen or a laptop and turn of the Wi Fi and get ready for words to surprise you. It also doesn’t matter at all if you don’t write anything / everything you write is rubbish / you end up abandoning an idea you’d been hoping would be fruitful. You have to turn up for it to work. You have to write bad things alongside the good things. Maybe you’ll look back over that notebook in a week or a month’s time and find a great line you didn’t spot at the time. Maybe you’ll sit down to write on that subject tomorrow and you’ll sneeze out a perfect sonnet. Writing is always paving the way for something to happen, even if it feels like jogging through treacle.
Secondly, make sure you step away from work or change up your activities. If you’ve been trying to write for an hour and it’s not going well, that’s probably enough for the time being. Do something else – write a funding application or a blog post, read an interesting essay or book, check your emails, and an hour later you might be able to come back to your writing with a new perspective.
An add-on to the above is to ensure that you get outside or get moving in some way, whether it’s a walk, or a run or something more inventive. A bit of vitamin D, a bit of exercise to get the blood flowing and a bit of time to look at new things and enjoy the natural world are all highly recommended. An idea might even pop into your head as you’re stomping down the track.
Thirdly: treats are important. They don’t have to be big things, but a bit of chocolate or a really nice cup of coffee or a bath bomb can be treated as a little reward. You can use them to fortify yourself and remind yourself that you are making time to write, and that’s what you came to do!
For further permissive and soothing writing advice, do check out these podcasts where author Elizabeth Gilbert solves peoples’ creative dilemmas and makes them feel good about their art. I return to them often.
By Suzannah Evans, Writer in Residence, October 2019