As I write, I’m looking out at our lily plants, which are in pots at the end of our garden. The recent lovely weather has made them bloom – they are covered with lovely red and yellow blossoms, and their stems are green and thick, and they are the picture of health. This is the first summer in recent years where I think the weather has really suited them, and they are showing their appreciation the best way they know how.
However, one thing has struck me about these beautiful plants, and that is this.
They are growing lopsided. This is because, of course, like every plant, they grow to follow the sunlight. I keep meaning to go out and turn them a little, to see if it will help them to grow more evenly, but I keep forgetting. It doesn’t stop the plant from looking beautiful, and I’m sure it will bloom and survive and follow its usual life-cycle just fine if I never remember to turn the pot, but it does mean the plant will be sideways. And that got me thinking, about growing out of shape and focusing too much on one direction in life and being all out of whack.
You may remember how, earlier in the week, I wrote about how I’d been tired, and under the weather, and feeling a little burnt-out. Well, I’ve been giving myself a little break over the last few days, as I promised I would. I haven’t been pressuring myself to write 5,000 words, or to get absolutely everything on my to-do list done. I’ve even been allowing myself a proper lunch break, away from the computer – and, not only that, but I’ve been watching a little TV during this lunchbreak.
This is a radical new departure for me. I’m not a TV person, and it’s not my favourite thing to do to relax. However, I do have one weakness when it comes to television: I’m talking about cookery programmes, particularly ones about baking.
It has been a long, long time since I fired up my oven to bake anything. I haven’t lost my love for it, but I’ve left it so long that I wondered if I’d ever bake again. That was until I decided to switch on the TV one lunchtime earlier in the week and came across a half-hour baking slot on one of our food-themed channels, and I enjoyed watching it so much that yesterday, I managed to bake some biscuits. They weren’t great – they expanded too much in the oven, and they probably weren’t as tasty as they should have been. But, despite all this, it gave me so much pleasure to take out my scales once again and measure out my flour and sugar, and to crack my fresh eggs into my mixture, and to get my hands dirty with dough. It was the simplest recipe I think I’ve ever used, perfect for getting back into baking after so long away from it, and even if the finished product mostly ends up in the bin I’ll be glad I dipped my toe back into the water.
It’s not a good thing, as a writer and even just as a person, to allow yourself to grow one-sided. It’s a very easy thing to do when you spend so much of your time alone, working away on something that is meaningful, in some ways, only to you; it’s so easy to fall down the black hole of your own mind, and never be able to crawl out of it again. I love my own company, and have always enjoyed time spent on solitary tasks, but even I recognise there is a limit to how long you can focus on one thing before getting a little twisted out of shape. It’s important, I’m learning, to keep in touch not only with friends and loved ones, but also with the other aspects of yourself that you should love as much (or, nearly as much) as your ability to write; your other passions should not be strangled out of existence by your love of words. I love to bake, to walk, to draw, to sing, to listen to music. I love trees, and forests, and lakes. I love art, and history. I love exploring. All of these things are as valid as my passion for words, and sentences, and stories. It cannot benefit me as a person, and therefore as a writer, to allow these other loves to die.
I’m really beginning to understand that a person can’t write in isolation from the rest of their life. Everything you do as a writer feeds into your creative life – every walk you take, every flower you smell, every cake you bake, every person you meet, every song you sing, all these things help to fill the well of inspiration. A person can’t write if they know nothing outside of their own skull – after a short while, all their writing will become solipsistic, repetitive, and dry. It will die. If a person’s other passions have also been allowed to atrophy, what will be left?
Striking a balance is hard in all walks of life, particularly when you’re doing something you love, but it’s very important. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into my morning’s work now, and writing as many words as come to me, but if I write twenty words or two thousand, I’ll be equally pleased with my progress.
And – believe me – this is progress.
Have a lovely Friday. I’m sending you all some of these: