After the void


So: back to work, after some time off. Time in which very little was done, or so I’ve been telling myself. Still need to call the dentist, find a plasterer to fix a curtain rail, crack the spines of most of the volumes in my summer reading. Didn’t even have a proper holiday with bucket and spade and paddling in the sea.

I felt a bit cranky at the end of last week, thinking I’d achieved so little and I really must be even more of a lazy git than I thought, but since then I’ve concluded 1. I am not really the (over)achieving type (which is not to say I don’t have desires or ambitions), and 2. sometimes you need a bit of empty space. Various traditions including Buddhism value the concept of emptiness,  and I’ve been thinking about that value myself. Sometimes we get a bit crowded out by other things – grasping to attachments, or things undone, or the crowings of social media – and, however unplanned (and however much it can’t really be a goal in itself), emptiness helps you clear your way through some of that and see more clearly what can or must come next. Emptiness is not the same as nothing.

I did get to spend some top-quality time with the dog and with old friends passing through; those sorts of achievements are immeasurable. Also bingewatched some good tv, especially seasons five and six of RuPaul’s Drag Race (which incidentally gave me innumerable tips for my own teaching and coaching style). And I experimented with a few changes to diet that, along with dog walking, have since the start of April resulted in weight loss of 20 pounds, another form of emptiness, but one that had been elusive yet very necessary and that feels very, very good (maybe another half a stone to go to reach my ideal).

And what feels even better: I didn’t go to the gym once! In fact, I’m cancelling my gym membership. I hate gyms, and I hate running, and I hate personal trainers with their facile targets and idiot heads, and none of them seem to agree on anything anyway. I’ll do things my own idiot way, thank you very much, walking in the great outdoors with our beloved little whippet, and eating plenty of vegetables and cheese and fish and fewer but better carbs. And gardening.

We laid the foundations for a new garden in the spring, and during the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time out there. Hoeing, watering, pruning, scattering, washing stones, scraping dirt from under my fingernails, planting, replanting, transplanting (but don’t tell my mom as she thinks I move things round too much). Also created something of a gravel garden out front. Even when I’ve not been in the garden, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it: where to order bulbs and when to plant them, what shrubs to get for where, which rose to start its climb of the corner by the back door next spring. I also read a lot of books and blogs on gardens (far more than I did of fiction). I found a visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden incredibly inspiring, and wrote about that for a friend’s blog.

After the initial spurt of planning and planting, and as autumn approaches, the editing of the garden has begun: more ferns, more evergreens, grasses going into pots (where they look great), no more gooseberry or phlox, fewer geraniums given so many didn’t flower, maybe fewer dahlias but more rudbeckias, and making sure the catmint won’t dominate (easy to create a splash, but scrawny after a while: think there’s a message there somewhere). We only have a small space, and there’s only so much you can do.

As with work. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve been balancing teaching and editorial coaching with other freelance work, and I probably need a little more focus to make this more meaningful (while remaining dog- and garden-friendly). I am thinking of developing some of the teaching I do for writers – both beginning and more advanced – into a more structured yet informal programme of studies for writers, something I described in a blog post last year. Do drop me a line if you’re interested.

I’ve also been very encouraged that over the summer I’ve introduced two clients to agents, and a third not only found an agent but secured a deal with a publisher, and a very good one at that. These were writers of very different books, but I very much enjoyed working with all three, and even better they were writers who were engaged and responsive to editorial input. This makes the work we do meaningful (hope that’s not too crowing). One cut 20,000 words to make a tighter, leaner, stronger book. One retold her story in the past tense to give it greater depth and feeling. And one sat with me in a pub near Charing Cross, and showed me diamonds. Real diamonds. I had no idea diamonds would be so captivating.

And now it’s back to work. Over the next months I hope to make posts here more frequently. No more Friday Writing Experiments, but I plan to post reviews of books and other resources on writing, as well as craft essays and notes on publishing. Some future posts will address subjects such as different types of editing, when to self-publish, word counts, prose style, and the sort of input you can expect from a book doctor.

This week I’ve been prepping three workshops for next weekend’s Festival of Writing in York (Tell Me A Story; Showing & Telling & Storytelling; The Four Elements of Creativity) and I’ve also read all the submissions from the writers I’m meeting as book doctor. Quite a mix of stuff, and in different ways quite exciting. Whether it’s diamonds on a table next to a Scotch egg, or the start of a richly told tale set in a richly imagined world, or a scarily true story, the work I do can really take me to some unexpected places in some wonderful company, all in the cause of good writing (and reading).

It’s feeling very autumnal out there. Dusk, a robin singing like crazy, dinner on the table. Back to school/work. (That’s an autumn fern – Dryopteris erythrosora – with the rudbeckias in the picture, by the way.)