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: