The blank page

The boys’ nerves about school evaporate entirely by the end of day one, and they come home amped and buzzing about their new friends, their awesome teachers, the lunchtime cricket, the daily swimming in the school pool. They embrace the school bus routine enthusiastically and find great satisfaction in farewelling us at the front door of the house at 7.55am and taking themselves off down the grass track to the designated country-road corner, bursting back through the door at 3.05pm.

My own day-one nerves, however, take a little longer to settle. Now that my year of liberty and solitude has finally arrived I have a strong sense of something extraordinarily precious that mustn’t be wasted. The sense of responsibility could be almost paralysing. But I was expecting that, and I know from my year of concurrently writing my Master’s thesis and my rejected Mills & Boon manuscript – 1995 – that ‘wasted’ time and unproductive days are a natural, and probably necessary, part of the rhythm of productivity.

I need structure, however, and I can see that trying to keep all the inevitable errands in ‘town’ – supermarket shopping, doctor’s visits, finding a therapist to help me work through my productivity-anxiety issues – outside school hours will be stressful and unfair on tired boys. So I resolve to spend the mornings writing, at least for now, and the early afternoons running errands and working through the list of life-maintenance tasks that will take a weight off my soul: sorting through three years’ worth of photo archives, corresponding with long-neglected friends overseas. When that list gets small enough I might even allow some reading time or try and teach myself how to use the fancy camera.

But as for the writing, well, where do I start? All these fragments of ideas with no organising principle. I planned to just start putting sentences together, to write up a vignette or two, try and capture a few moments of experience or observation, just to get started, but I can already see they need to be for something. So many little decisions about character, perspective, tense, detail, depth, without someone or something to fill them, those sentences are just empty garments. So I need to start drawing diagrams: some sort of outline to start sticking my bits of mosaic onto.

What I mustn’t do is spend all day writing about starting to write…

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