Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Judy Pascoe.
Today is a writing day, not everyday is. I’m working on a book at the moment based on a dissertation I completed last year—the culmination of many years of study.
I didn’t write for a long time while my kids were growing up because I didn’t want to be a distracted mother always stealing moments to cure plot points while trying to cook dinner.
I knew I would write again and when I did it would be very different, and so it is. For many years I studied psychotherapy, not initially to become a therapist, but as much to understand my own creative drives and those of others. Also, if I’m being honest part of me perhaps thought I’d never write another book and I wasn’t sure what to do next.
But I “see” a child (in my mind) while I am doing a yoga class some years back who warrants a book written about her. My children are older and I have my more time. So I do write the book. It is set in England in the 17th century and is the story of a girl, Ursula and her trusty hound, Bandares.
This is a YA book with a plot I worked on by reading the story line over and over to my family until it felt right. I then wrote the first draft of the book quite quickly, I think because I had put so much work into getting the story right. That book seems to be finding a home now.
But the book I am writing today is very different. It is more like a building project, adding and taking away, expanding and cutting while reading it aloud to my husband in an attempt to make it appear effortless.
The story and style reflect something of the way my mind works, a sort of leaping from thought to fact, to wonderment to distress to fantasy. It is the story of my research journey. Today I am trying to finish 4,000 words to send to my agent. This is how I am writing it, in installments that I send off to him. It is comforting to know he is there to receive it, to read it, to say—well done, keep going. It’s that kind of book. I’ve never written like this before, but I’m beginning to suspect it mirrors the process of how I built my dissertation.
I’ve taken the dogs out already this morning, up into the woods—the bluebells are out. OMG it smells amazing, it is so beautiful. The walking helps loosen the grip of the thinking mind and allows a more connected stream of thought to emerge. This is an unusual day. My husband is away—I have no commitments and this is a rare thing and certainly was not the case for many years.
My research topic was drawing and painting dream imagery, a field of interest that emerged while studying as a psychotherapist. Early on in the training I began to draw and paint, something I had never done before, or not since I was a child. So I am writing about dreaming, painting, and the research process, I hope with insight and humour, some uncomfortable truths but ultimately a work that attempts to add to our understanding of ourselves.
What I have written on my phone while walking with the dogs this morning, I go back and paste into the computer. I print it out, I read it aloud. I move things around, I rewrite. I add relevant literature and quotes of beauty and insight that I found while researching, I lie on the sofa, I wash up.
Writers and artists are always negotiating real life and the imaginary world of their work. The job is not to forsake one for the other. The inner world of the story or whatever art form it is has to find its place in our life and not be inhabited at the expense of the outer world. I’m so much better now at applying myself when I work, then leaving it, not allowing it to nag at me.
At three, I head to yoga. I do a ninety minute class. I discovered over the years it works best for me to break the day in two. When I was writing my dissertation, my daughter was studying for her final exams, and we would work for an hour, then make ourselves drop our pens when precisely one hour had passed to take a thirty-minute break—no screens were allowed in the down time. It was so productive, much more so than trying to work for four hours straight.
After yoga, I come back and cook dinner for my husband. We talk about how we have spent our day. He allows me to read out what I have written that day, and I change the manuscript as I go, hoping to create this perfect flow. I take the dogs up into the woods again because the days are long at the moment, there is so much light.
Tomorrow I will do pretty much the same thing. This is really a golden day/weekend. It’s usually a lot more snatched than this, especially during the week when there is travel to and from London and other commitments, but I’m appreciating this time. It is sublime at this time of the year on the Cotswold escarpment.
AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?
- Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. The book was chosen by a member of my book group. It is poetic and so well written. I related to one of the themes of the book, having written a first novel a long time ago and being asked for years when the next book would appear. It made me laugh. It’s the only novel our group has discussed by opening it at random pages and reading bits out. Every page was brilliant. It also validated this style I was experimenting with for my next novel, but feeling uncertain of.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
Read what you have written aloud. It will come to life (or not) and you will see and hear all your mistakes.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
I don’t have any rules. I write all over the place, all over the house, in cafés, on the train, on bits of paper, on my phone–so as much as possible it feels like part of my life, not a split-off activity.
By Judy Pascoe:
—Other Writers in the Series—
Nicely written. Keep it up.
I’m trying to write a book myself. I’ve got the ideas but just not able to get pen to paper. Hope you find better luck in your journey. All the very best.
Annie Dillard is wise 🙂
Just, I liked your post. It inspired an idea I’m going to post shortly on thirstwords blog about spending your day writing. Thanks for the inspiration.
I am a mother of young children. What you said about how you did not write when kids were young strikes a cord in me.
Just like you write below :
“Writers and artists are always negotiating real life and the imaginary world of their work. The job is not to forsake one for the other. The inner world of the story or whatever art form it is has to find its place in our life and not be inhabited at the expense of the outer world. I’m so much better now at applying myself when I work, then leaving it, not allowing it to nag at me.”
I like that And you did write and paint well !
Loved the post.. 🙂
I am new to blogging. I am inspired by your words of wisdom, and I love how you discuss your life in meticulous detail! I also love to write and this blog has given me the motivation to start writing again! Thank you thank you thank you!
Enjoyed reading your post.
I remember walking through a bluebell wood in Dorset. It was so relaxing.
I live in Dorset too,and bluebell woods are wonderful.
I loved this and related to it as both a writer and artist who has just finished raising to children to official adulthood. Judy’s life sounds wonderful – the bluebells, the dog, the yoga, the husband who listens. I have similar blessings but also a full time computer job. But working toward full time writing and art and am so inspired. I would love to read the dream imagery book when it is complete!
Nicely written 💕
Recently I have begun to spend my days resting and trying to recover from a brain injury. I have been forced to stop everything but it has opened a door to writing which I always knew was won that I needed to open but never seem to have the time. I’m so grateful to this community for our ability to share our stories with each other, it is so inspiring.
“I don’t have any rules. I write all over the place, all over the house, in cafés, on the train, on bits of paper, on my phone–so as much as possible it feels like part of my life, not a split-off activity.”
Perfect, that’s definitely the way to go…or at least, it’s the same thing that I do. Anytime I have a chance, I always grab the opportunity to get to work. Sometimes it’s hard to do anything BUT write!
Beautifully described (y)
I read the whole post. The combination of painting and writing is unique.
“I’m so much better now at applying myself when I work, then leaving it, not allowing it to nag at me.” – Glad you’ve found the routine that works for you. 🙂 I hope I’d have the discipline to follow the routine I’ve written down for myself too. Sometimes I do, but most often I don’t. But I am not giving up. Thank you for this post 🙂 Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
Great post, awesome art
thank you for the the great feedback and comments. It is a solitary pursuit writing – so always great to not feel totally alone.
This is a wonderful piece 👌
I would like to write something but, I get so shy to do it. I think motivation is what makes it possible. I like it because seems to me as a personal life coming out of the paper.
and I like the painting very much.
More beautiful than words can convey.Thank you!
True indeed a story is something which is not an ending. It can start from anywhere.
Wonderful post! I also see that time shouldn’t be wasted. Memories should be kept and writing is an excellent way to preserve these priceless memories. Hope you can visit my blog 🙂
Great post. I have to totally agree that writers are always negotiating real life and the imaginary world of what they call work.
I like your combo of paintings,photo’s and text.
I like this. So often we think that we have to carve out a big chunk of time to sit and write, but writing can come (and needs to be allowed to come) in little spurts throughout a day or a week or a month. This is what I love about technology is that I always have at least my phone (and my blog) where I can quickly write an idea or a page when it comes to me.
Nice work! 🙂
wow !!!!!!! 🙂
Hi, My name is Lynn, I am the mom of nine kids so I really related to your journey and how you are now working on this project and have time for it! I love your process! I lived in Saudi Arabia for 16 years and wish I could put it down in words. I just started blogging.