'We have to cultivate the habits of curiosity and paying attention, which are essential to living rich lives and writing.'
So says Anne Lamott in her book Almost Everything: Notes on hope.
And how right she is. How can you write if you're not curious about something? And how you can write if you don't pay attention to what's going on around you?
Curiosity leads as to introspection. What makes us tick? Why do we do the things we do and think that way? Why did one of your friends say, in the middle of a good fun knees-up, drinks flowing and laughter echoing around the room, that she was going to climb Mt Everest when you've only known her to tackle a mini sand dune at a west coast beach and she hates the cold?
Was she serious or just joking - and why would she be either of those things?
One of the best ways of paying attention for me is to stop what I'm doing, clean my glasses so I can see properly, and sit down to look out of the window. The weather was stormy today with intermittent lightning flashes and growls of thunder and bursts of full on rain.
When I sat down, the sky was brighter, the worst of the storm was over, and the sea out my window was flat and dull green like unpolished greenstone, the sunlight catching the bright white wings of birds floating on the waves while the skyline was dull and flat grey like a stage backdrop. The birdbath on the lawn was overflowing and a blackbird was enjoying a good old time, flapping about and spraying diamond-glistening droplets of water everywhere.
I probably won't write about what I saw today, apart from here. It was more about my stopping to look to see what was going on, to wonder why the weather was behaving that way and to feel the joy of the bird having his extravagant and indulgent bath.
As we get older we seem to lose that 'paying attention' thing and our time is spent on those busy everyday things like looking out for the kids, driving the car, fixing food and trying not to burn yourself or the dinner, getting to work and paying attention to that (or not) ... but as writers, we
need to turn our antennae to the natural world and what's going on around us, really look and see and feel, and take some time to pay attention to those things that nurture and inspire our writing and creativity, to listen to snippets of conversation and to wonder why your friend is so up front about Mt Everest that she's hooked up with a mountaineer who will teach her how to use all of the alpine equipment she is now ordering online.
And if you're sitting there, being kinda quiet and paying attention for long enough, I'll bet some cat will come along and sit in your lap for a bit. Now there's a bonus and a treat.
I love using my water blaster.
This is the time of year when I get it out of the shed and tackle all of the concrete stairs leading up to my house. The high and hot suns of summer have been replaced by the low, mellow winter light without warmth that barely makes it over the tops of the trees. Slimy stuff darkens the outdoor stairs, slippery stuff, a recipe for disaster. Even the cat slips.
I have a special outfit I wear: an old blue raincoat, a pair of my Dad's old sou'wester foul weather gear pants from his sailing days, and a pair of green boots.
I don't mind the water blasting. I've been using it as an excuse not to write.
I confess. Someone else could certainly do the water blasting but I choose to do it, in fact I leap up, put my hand in the air and say 'Pick me! I want to do this job!' even though it is wet, dirty and dangerous, negotiating those outdoor steps that have memorial plaques on them saying 'Harold fell over here on 1 January 2008. Fortunately he didn't feel a thing.' (because it would have been the morning after one of my New Year's Eve parties).
It just goes to prove how far I will go to avoid writing. However, I have always found the process of water blasting beneficial in a creative way: I think it's good to busy yourself with a manual task, and then the mind is free to wander about, ponder, think things through as you see the slime and moss being washed away, lulled by the sound of the machine and the methodical approach one takes to operating the equipment. And there is the end result - nice clean stairs, no slipping, and best of all, no memorial plaques this winter.
So while you may see a job such as water blasting or gardening or painting as a means to escape writing (and I can't help myself, I certainly do), the act of doing something can often help us to think creatively, sort out a writing problem or roadblock, figure out the story ending that has eluded us for days.
Plus you'll have a very clean house, outdoor steps, and garden.