It’s 5.30 a.m. and I’m sitting in the cabin. This is my study. A sofa covered in an old blanket, a pre-loved writing desk and folding chair. A shelf of books. Assorted tarot decks. Herbs drying from the ceiling. I’m wearing a dressing gown and pink plastic garden shoes and sipping chamomile tea.
Morning pages. My pen flies across the page, words uneven, jumping over each other in their desire to be free. I fill three pages before I stop to fetch more tea and some toast. Later I will sit down to work on a novel, I might make a blog post and I will do some research.
For such a long time I thought “being a writer” meant how you made your money. Just like “being a teacher” meant getting a job in school and marking books with a red pen. You weren’t a writer unless it paid you.
I wanted to “be a writer” from around sixteen y ears of age. I imagined sitting in an attic room, pen scratching across the page, light seeping through a grimy skylight, like Jo March in Little Women. I have always loved books and as an English student my study of Virigina Woolf reminded me of my dream. I would be the woman in the oversized cardigan hard at her writing, in a room of her own.
In 1992 I meet the author Catherine Aird. I’m caring for an elderly lady in a nearby village as my summer job and she is a friend. She comes for tea on a few occasions and one day tells me what she does. I, as any aspiring writer might, express my desire to write. “If you write two hundred and fifty words a day for nine months,” she says, “you’ll have a full length novel.” For the first time this seems like it might be somthing I could do, though it will take nearly thirty years before I begin.
Early marriage and motherhood made me feel my dream was “unrealisitc” at the same time a passion for religion pulled me into church ministry and for a long time the dream got lost, left on a shelf like an old photograph, gathering dust and cobwebs, fading as the year passed. Occasionally I’d start something, a story perhaps, a poem. But I allowed my inner critic too much voice and she usually told me it was no good and anyway it wouldn’t put food on the table and better to be sensible and find something that would pay.
I trained as a teacher. The lessons I loved most were those where we made books. Each child would contribute a picture and a scrap of writing (in generous five-year old script). We would glue them to sugar paper and sew them together with wool and add them to the book corner, in pride of place. I have them still.
Time trickles onwards. Mid life approaches. Life shifts with some storms and everyday tragdies. I begin to hear about the “creative life” to learn that it is possible to be creative for its own sake, to allow this part of the soul to sing freely, in our everyday lives. I begin to discover that creation is its own magic, the spirit of the universe dancing through the flesh-wrapped frailty of humans.
I start a blog to write about the life I’m living, the path I’m exploring, the enchantment which is finding me and whirling me to unexpected places.
I read The Artist’s Way. I read it and I get up everyday and do my morning pages and I keep my artists dates and something changes.
I listen to Elizabeth Gilbert talk about creating. That done is better than good. That you have to make sacrifices and choices to get to your dreams, to create, and that you only have one life.
I see all my lives laid out before me, wife and mother, teacher, minister, healer, counsellor, gardener. I see all the paths I have tried and tested. All the ways I have sought to find my home in this lifetime.
It is not what I thought. A writer’s life, like an artist’s life, or an actor’s life, is made not given. It is crafted, woven, chiselled, from the raw material of our lives. It takes conscious choice on a daily basis.
There are still bills to pay, food to fetch, weeds to pull. This is the same for all of us.
It is 9.25 a.m. I am sitting in the attic, fingers flying across the keyboard, listening to the sound of traffic outside leaking through the open skylight.
This is a writer’s life.