A Blank Page

Spring is in the air; there are greening leaf-buds on the trees. Crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils are at their peak or even beyond, and the next wave of new growth and flowering is almost ready. The days are longer; and there's a subtle excitement, a sense of potential for something new.

I'm sitting looking out of the window at the morning sun beginning to break through cloud cover and I'm thinking about my idea for a new book. It's still very much unshaped...like a water-colour artist's paper covered only in a hint of wash, with faint forms beginning to appear, but still undefined. I have become fascinated by the mid-Victorian era, 1840s and 1850s, and I know the book will involve that time frame somehow. I know some of the themes, am formulating an idea of character, a sense of place; but it is all happening so slowly.

Spring comes quickly; soon the bluebells will be here, azure mist on the woodland slopes ; and one spring follows another faster and faster for me now. This book idea has been simmering for a few years already, though I find that hard to believe. It was the same with Inscription; and even once the idea took shape, my perfectionist way of making draft after draft, of rewriting over and over, meant the book took still more years to create and complete.

Time's wingèd chariot is snapping at my heels, to ruin Marvell's metaphor; and I berate myself for being such a slow writer. Months to write a poem? Years to write a book? Why? Why am I so ridiculously glacial in pace, when my bones know, every day more deeply, how brief this life is?

I can change some of my habits, I can exert more self-discipline. I can remind myself of what it felt like to write journalism, with no leeway.  I can give myself deadlines. And with the new impetus of spring, I'm determining today to do just that.  But I don't think I'll ever be a speedy, prolific writer, turning out a book a year, as some authors do, or a finished poem a day.

And I realise that, as usual, I have to find a balance; once again, it's that tightrope we writers walk. I must indeed get a move on, if I want to finish another book. But I shouldn't panic about it, as that leads to paralysis. I need to forgive myself for being slow and perfectionist. It can be modified, but it probably can't be fundamentally changed. I need to accept that it's just the way I am.

Yet I am an impatient person, at the same time. I have to remind myself that it's not a race; remind myself to relax; to rediscover the play of making something, the enjoyable puzzle.

Here's a bit from a book that is moving so many readers now, When Breath becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, a writer and doctor who died a year ago at 37: when he held his newborn baby, her weight in one arm, gripping his wife's hand with the other, "..the possibilities of life emanated before us. The cancer cells in my body would still be dying, or they'd start growing again. Looking out over the expanse ahead I saw not an empty wasteland but something simpler: a blank page on which I would go on."