David Mitchell Archive

Blog, Novel Writing, Writing

Working with outlines, doing away with time

6896054295_22c4a258fc_zThe other day I said I’d go and meet H at 1230. We arranged this a couple of hours earlier. There was no fixed reason why 1230, other than I thought it would be a good time, and I’d be hungry for lunch.

When the time came around, I was not quite finished what I was working on, or had done the chores I’d wanted to do–reactivate my library card, borrow Tim Birkhead’s Bird Sense–but the 1230 deadline loomed over me to the point where I began to get uptight about it. H was going nowhere. She was in her studio making stuff. There was nothing we had to be at or go to afterwards. 1230 was not precious. And yet I’d made it so–a strict appointment that it would be awful to miss.

For some reason, that day, I began to question why this was. Perhaps because we’d talked earlier in the week about what irked us more, someone being late or someone running an event, giving a talk, etc, overunning at the end into your time. (Note: for me, the latter.) Or perhaps it was because we’d set the time to meet only two hours ahead, and so its complete arbitrariness was more apparent. But essentially it dawned on me, as it has not before, that this was an ingrained pattern, nothing to do with my conscious or rational understanding of what in fact was in front of us. It was something highly emotional, charged, and hidden. That is: something from my childhood.

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Writing Blog

Becoming the Professional Writer

“When you can’t create, then you can work.”

tropic_of_capricorn_henryMillerThat’s one of Henry Miller’s eleven rules for the writer which I keep on my desk. I’d always interpreted it as ‘if you can’t write new stuff, then edit old stuff, finish off something’. Essentially, still writing. But since reading David Whyte’s Crossing the Unknown Sea I’ve also interpreted it as taking non-writing actions to progress a life of writing.

In his book about finding one’s purpose/identity in one’s work, Whyte talks about his own journey from young biology graduate, Galapagos island guide, through non-profit organizer, to a poet, writer and poet-philosopher of purpose. One of the things he decided to do, when he knew he could not longer not make writing his central activity, was to do one thing a day for a year to make that happen.

So I thought: what a good idea.

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