Jen and I have just returned from our annual early September holiday in Anglesey. As always, when we weren’t out walking or dining, I spent much of my time—typically 90 minutes before breakfast, and 90 minutes in the late afternoon—sitting on my favourite rock, gazing out to sea. Nature waiting, I like to call it: sitting and waiting to see what comes along.
Billy Connolly once joked luge competitors in the Winter Olympics could practice their sport simply by lying in bed. Similarly, it occurred to me one morning last week, people who write about the natural world—or, indeed, about anything—can carry out research simply by sitting on a rock with a brew, gazing out to sea. Well, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.
All joking aside, though, as I keep insisting to anyone who will listen, there’s far more to writing than simply writing. There’s also research, obviously, including making notes. And there’s thinking about what you’re going to write. And there’s outlining. And, after you’ve written your first draft, there’s all the re-writing, cutting out the bullshit in an attempt to fashion a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (if you’ll pardon the mixed farming-metaphor-cum-cliché).
But I would maintain there are less obvious elements of writing that are just as important, but which, to be frank, sound—and feel—like skiving. Reading other people’s writing, for example. How can you develop as a writer without learning a thing or two from your colleagues—both what works, and what doesn’t? And there’s letting things stew. Once you’ve finished the first draft of a piece of serious writing, just about the worst thing you can do is immediately begin work on the second. You need to allow yourself time to become less familiar with what you’ve written, so you can review it with fresher, more dispassionate eyes. And there’s simply allowing yourself time to chill. Sitting on your favourite rock with a brew, gazing out to sea is a great way to do this. As I re-discover every September, simply making time to think about nothing in particular is a great way to come up with new ideas; to realise what you need to do up your game; and, most importantly, to put things in perspective. And if, in the process, you happen to spot some stuff that might make nice material for chapters or blog posts, so much the better.
Thank you, once again, favourite rock. I’ll be back!