Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Feeding the Brain

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity in the last few days. Last week, I spent all day and all evening writing, working on my novel. By the end of the day I had just had enough. I was sick of it. The next day, when I woke up, I felt like the half of an orange that has just come out of the juicer. Dried up. A husk. My brain felt completely empty, and I knew I had to stop writing, and feed my brain. I had to fill it up with juice again.

So I spent the afternoon at Norwich Castle, looking at their collection of paintings. Watercolours and oils by the members of the Norwich School, like John Crome, and John Sell Cotman, and also Edward Seago and Alfred Munnings. Then I went into the Timothy Coleman Gallery, where they had an exhibition of modern art. There was a wonderful Chagall. There was another painting, by a man whose name I have forgotten (but I will find out). He was an abstract expressionist whose work had been banned by the Nazis. So he had spent most of the 30s and 40s being persecuted, doing menial jobs, forbidden to paint. But he had painted, tiny little paintings of such enormous passion. What an incredible man.

At the weekend, I visited 2 National Trust properties, Oxburgh Hall and Blickling Hall. Their beauty and history inspired me. Even in the cold wind, their gardens fired me up. All those lovely carvings, portraits, inlaid cabinets, ornate plaster ceilings, silver-backed hairbrushes. I love such beautiful things. It made me realise that although I am a writer (in the same way I am female), what I dream of being is an artist. One day I hope to fulfil this dream.

Now my brain feels invigorated, juicy again. It was good to have a holiday from writing, to give the little grey cells a break. Now I feel lots more creative than I did. Inspired. Of course, physically I am a wreck, but I’ll get over that if I give myself permission to rest. The important thing is that the spirits are lifted.

A dear friend of mine has taken a career break and gone abroad to work on her novel. It’s an incredibly brave thing to do, but it has put her under a lot of pressure, because she can only afford a certain amount of time before she has to come back. Right now she is feeling all juiced out, just like I was. But she can’t afford the time to stop. I wonder about this. I hugely admire what she is doing, but I wonder if one can ‘force’ a novel in this way. Maybe writing is what we do in between the stuff of life, the washing up and the ironing. I have written some of my best stuff while waiting for potatoes to boil. Yes, we have to practise every day, or as close to that as we can. But doing it 18 hours a day, is that healthy, for us or for the work? It wore me out, I know that much. I think that our everyday lives, the stuff we all complain about in our writers group as getting in the way of our work, actually FEEDS it. But on the other hand, I am not able to work, so I don’t have the pressures that she does. Perhaps I am in an enviable position. All I know is that without putting fuel in, you can’t get energy out. We can use the minutiae of life as fuel. But sometimes we need to stop and feed ourselves a huge banoffee pie of National Trust property.

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