A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I’m sure there are writers who don’t get dressed until the end of the afternoon, like Christy Hall: “A writing day is like any other day. Except I live in my pyjamas, I forget to eat, and I suddenly look up, wondering when day turned into night.” I’m equally sure there are writers who drink and smoke a lot. Step forward Roald Dahl: ‘The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him.’ (Note the him, she said, sniffing disapprovingly.)
I’m not one of them. I’m with Flaubert on this: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
And so I get up early, I eat regular meals, I cook multiple dinners for the vegans and omnivores in my life, and I do my best to keep up with the housework, even though it bores me rigid. And I exercise.
I walk my collie cross, Misty, three times a day. Earlier this week, Liz Flanagan blogged, better than I ever could, about why writers and dogs make a good combination. Do read her blog – it’s lovely. For me, my daily walks boost the circulation and warm me up if I’ve been sitting still for too long. I get fresh air on my face and natural light on the top of my head. I meet people. I take photos. I have time to think or time to deliberately empty my mind and just be. If the weather’s good, we might go for a longer walk, but usually our regular circuit of fields, hills and the canal is good enough. For 11 dog-owning years, I’ve observed tiny changes in my ‘patch’ – the progress of the seasons in the trees and hedgerows and the grass under my feet, the daily march of the sun through the sky. I’ve walked the same route in the sun, rain, snow, hail, fog, dawn, dusk and dark. Walking without a dog isn’t the same. When Sparky (who had a cameo role in ‘Numbers’) died at the end of 2010, I only managed to stay dogless for a few weeks. Walking the dog sets a structure for my day and helps to keep me connected with the world.
I top up my dog walks with other exercise. I’m at the age when weight creeps on unless you combat it vigorously. Over the years I’ve tried yoga (fall asleep at the end), horseriding (too scary), running (bit tough on my knees and hips), swimming lessons (very useful), aquarobics (strangely liberating), zumba (tricky if you can’t dance), the gym (you can watch TV or listen to Radio 4!), and body-sculpting (exercise with weights, fine if you don’t mind throwing up a kidney halfway through).
Of course, orderliness doesn’t protect you against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But when things are difficult, a walk in the fresh air will never makes things worse.
There’s a danger that being orderly will descend into getting stuck in a rut. Last year I took a sabbatical from my day job and as well as writing as a ‘job’ instead of a hobby, had 12 months of trying new things (tap dancing, holding a fundraising coffee morning, having a facial). It was fun and I’m trying to keep that up now that I’ve relinquished the day job altogether (oil painting, going on the London Eye and reading different genres this year). I also try to notice what’s good about each day, even the bad ones (everyone has bad days and there have been a few humdingers this year).
I like to think that my particular sort of orderliness helps to maintain a balance between the cerebral and the physical, the internal and the external. I like writing dark, twisty stories that surprise myself and my readers. And I hope that my orderly habits are helping me to be violent and original in my work. (Check back again, though. This time next year I’ll probably be sitting here downing whisky in my pyjamas.)
Rachel Ward is the author of the Numbers trilogy and The Drowning. www.rachelwardbooks.com Twitter: @RachelWardbooks
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Great post, Rachel. So with you on the dogs/walking thing.
Thanks, Emma. I was in two minds about posting this, as it might be a big disappointment to fledgling writers and readers to realise that (some) published writers’ lives are pretty humdrum, even a bit lame, rather than dissolute, disreputable or wildly adventurous.