I sat at my desk. It was the time I’d set aside for writing posts, choosing ideas from my list and writing them up in full. It’s taken me a good several years to get this far, where I’ve got a proper if still basic idea of when I’m best set to write. For me at the moment it’s Monday and Wednesday – I think the fact that Monday is the start of a new week and is a day I see as productive after the week’s end as well as it being the day my blog is visited most, helps me get in the right frame of mind. Wednesday may not be the start of the week, but it’s my second posting day of the week and is the last day when most of the week is still to come – by Wednesday we’re looking at the weekend coming swiftly.
But Monday wasn’t working. It was a dreary day outside; it begun that way and it carried on, and I dislike dark rainy days so I naturally thought it was a weather-induced lethargy. I didn’t feel like writing, none of the ideas on the list were working for me. But I started to realise it wasn’t procrastination either. It was a lack of inspiration.
It got me thinking – feeling ‘off’, for whatever reason, is one thing. Procrastination is another. And a lack of inspiration is something else again. And I think it’s easier to work out when you’re feeling off because it has a more obvious effect – you don’t feel well, or you feel down, or you’re in a slump. Generally noticeable things. Procrastination is also noticeable because it’s that odd thing – the lack of effort which itself takes effort to achieve. But inspiration is different; it can feel like lethargy.
What do you do when you lack inspiration and need it? I think responding to it a little like when you’re in a slump can work – if you’re someone who powers through regardless, that could help and if you’re someone who makes it a time for rest or to do other things, that can help. But then it’s not quite the same as a slump.
During these times I tend to decide to do something mindless, something that’s full of autopilot actions where my mind can wander if it so wants. Depending on the situation I might decide to do something I don’t do much, in my case watch television or a film – things I find unproductive in terms of myself. (Sometimes doing something I like/dislike can remind me how relatively important the activity that I’ve abandoned is, which can help jump start inspiration.) Going out can help but it’s nowhere near the forgone conclusion, I find, that articles would have you believe.
I said Monday wasn’t working – it’s more isn’t. I’m writing this whilst feeling completely uninspired. I suppose not being inspired can be inspiring in a limited way – I’ve now this post but I’m not going to write a slew of similar ones. But I think it pays to reflect on the things you do most. I wonder if perhaps the thought I had at the turn of the year, ‘I may have done it for a few years now, but how on earth am I going to produce a lot of ideas and written content for another year?’ has something to do with it – my fairly empty non-review schedule.
I wonder if I should just go and watch a film or turn the dishwasher on. But here I am or was writing, something, at least. And on a Monday.
What do you do when you’ve everything you need to do the writing/composing/drawing/studying/so forth you planned except inspiration?
Screen shot from Into The Woods, copyright © 2014 Walt Disney Pictures.
It occurred to me after watching Into The Woods that we’ve had a couple of (few?) deviations recently from the meeting-the-prince element of Cinderella – in particular the aforementioned Into The Woods and Malinda Lo’s Ash. It kind of plays around with the idea of being summoned to the ball – what if you don’t want to go or aren’t sure you want the prince? If every eligible lady must attend, what about those who don’t actually want to, who want to marry someone from their home town? In the context of the traditional story and in the context of the audience/reader, the desirable outcome is to have the prince – so romantic!
By placing our modern contexts and the idea of independence into it, you get something different. Maybe Cinderella would like to meet the prince and then have time to think about it. Maybe it shouldn’t just be up to the prince (though admittedly no one says that; though it’s the prince’s opinion and love that’s considered important to this element of the story). Is the whole before-midnight aspect useful in this way, effectively giving Cinderella time by way of a forced ‘out’ to consider what she wants, even if in the end she doesn’t use it? (Arguably this is what Into The Woods does.) Whilst it may not be possible for Cinderella in the Disney versions, the overall darkness of the traditional story… there’s a possibility there perhaps that whoever it was who first told the story thought of all this. Unlikely, but possible.
I liked how in Into The Woods Cinderella decides to leave a shoe for the prince to use to find her if he so wishes, thus making a sort-of decision for herself. It plays with the whole idea and puts a bit more active thinking into the fairly ridged concept of let’s-have-a-ball-and-choose-a-girl. Cinderella made the effort to get there, now it’s the prince’s turn. (Though of course by removing the responsibility of choosing for herself and giving it to the prince she’s just pushing away the decision. If she’d given it more thought at the time she would have realised earlier that she didn’t want to marry him.) The message is there – don’t let others decide your destiny. You’ve likely made a decision, you now have to own it.
Following on from my post on eternally playing catch up, reading Elizabeth Fremantle’s books, with their Tudor characters who are readers, got me thinking of the way it can be easy to apply importance to older books over newer ones. I’d say we do this partly because of the plethora of newer ones and the fact we can’t know for sure which will last the time. (I also wonder if it’s in some way also due to history – there weren’t so many new books. Or were there? The biggest thing Project Gutenberg has taught me so far is that there were a lot more books published in days gone by than you’d realise.)
It kind of puts it into perspective – the Tudors didn’t have any books by, say, Austen, to read so whilst we might ascribe importance to older books there’s a relative newness to many of these older books. And then, of course, where do we stop – if we’re looking at ever-loved works we need to be looking at Plato, Socrates, and no further… is Plato too new?
On some level, there is something to be said for only or mainly reading older books. I know that whilst I myself don’t think reading only older books is a good idea because you’d be missing a lot of present discussion, I nevertheless admire and understand someone who passes by contemporary novels.
Do I feel similarly if someone says they only read newer books? No – whilst I might not think them silly, I do think they’re missing out, and missing out a lot more than the person who is reading only older books misses out. I would say this feeling is ingrained – by school, by society, by the importance and general fame placed on older books – and whereas my feeling that it’s good to read newer books rather than just older books isn’t completely personal either, the idea of newer-books-only being a ‘problem’ is a lot stronger.
I suppose the whole lot of this is cultural. Could I ever write a post on this subject and it be based purely on my own uninfluenced thoughts?
I think I do deem older books more important in that there is a lot more conversation around them, and particularly because the conversation is ongoing. It’s not going to suddenly come to a halt unless perhaps our values change a lot, and even then nowadays we tend to simply start viewing the books in new ways, from different angles.
That said, is there a difference between famous older books and forgotten/merely average older books? The connection between both is that they inform us about the period in which they were written in, but how much relative value is there in a book that has been largely forgotten because it was just average fare? (If a book was forgotten because it served its purpose at the time – 12 Years A Slave, for example, which was written during the abolition – that’s a different ball game.)
Yet to dismiss new books would be to dismiss future classics, and to miss the conversations happening about issues we are having now. You can read a classic that talks about the industrial revolution and there will be much to discuss, but what of current political, social, cultural issues?
How do you balance old and new books?
Unlike Terry Pratchett’s Death, ours on earth has no fondness for cats. We lost relatives of both the human and feline kind this month. One thing I am glad for: I trusted my intuition when it told me to use the free day I had to draft and schedule posts for the rest of the month. Knowing my blog has been continuing in my absence, that something is working to routine, has helped a lot.
All books are works of fiction.
Amanda Craig: The Other Side Of You – Finding his aunt dead in the flat, Will runs away, discovering an abandoned garden in the middle of a nice square where he can live and take care of the plants. I’ve read a lot about Quick Reads books – short and easy stories to aid literacy – but never read one; this particular story is somewhat based on Beauty And The Beast so it’s an interesting mix of reality and fantasy.
Evie Wyld: All The Birds, Singing – Running away from problems at home, Jake ends up on a remote British island looking after a sheep farm where someone is reducing her flock. Didn’t like this much at all – few answers, the dual narrative was written far too vaguely, and there’s neither plot nor development.
Josephine Johnson: Now In November – As the Great Depression looms over America, Marget and her family take up residence at a farm that will leave them constantly in debt. Originally published in 1934, this is a semi-forgotten Pulitzer Prize winner and whilst very good – not unlike, in atmosphere, to the Brontës and their moors – it’s definitely one to keep for a slow afternoon.
Margaret Laurence: The Stone Angel – A ninety-year-old looks back on her life as she fights off attempts to put her in a home. This is a Canadian classic from the 1960s so whilst it fits the trend we have going at the moment, the younger years of the woman are Victorian; a good book if difficult to read (due to the character).
Nicola Cornick: The Phantom Tree – When Alison runs away from those she is staying with as an unwelcome guest, she finds herself in the future and sees a way out of the restricted life she’s living. A good Tudor time travel book.
It would be difficult to pick a favourite this month. The two older books, the Laurence and the Johnson, were ironic, for me, in their subjects. I enjoyed the Cornick but it wasn’t as good as her previous. Considering what I said earlier this month I should point out that I’ve Marlon James’ prize winner and Tom Connelly’s Men Like Air on the go. I decided it was finally time for me to read James on the evening of the inauguration – on a day when I was constantly expecting the media to say ‘fooled you!’ suddenly the idea of starting such a daunting and long book didn’t seem so unrealistic after all. I’m finding the accenting difficult in that way that when an accent is written out some words will be hard to decipher and require some thought – I think I’ll enjoy it best by making it a long-term read. The Connelly I picked up in a moment of reading enthusiasm and it gripped me from the first page.
None this time.
There are still things to come but I’m hopeful that February will be a little better. One thing that has been very good is that the post-Christmas reading slump I thought might persist has gone.
What was the last book you finished and did you enjoy it?
It has been quite some time since I last wrote one of these posts. I think I got so caught up in ‘topic’ posts and using an editorial calendar that it got pushed to the wayside. Writing about your current reading doesn’t really fit the idea of planning ahead.
My reading so far this year has been minimal. I’m finding that January is a hit-or-miss month – some years I’ll read a lot, others not much at all (if I finish a few books it’s usually down to a last-week-before-February ‘rush’ wherein that last week is sufficiently far enough from the holidays to feel detached from them). Thinking back to years I read a lot in January, it was mostly down to Long-Awaited Reads Month. I considered doing it again this year, just me, but found I wasn’t in the mood.
So I’ve been in a slump but it’s coming to an end. It got to the stage where I had to read because of the books I’d taken on for review. The books have been good. The Stone Angel has a horrible heroine but the book otherwise has been a fair read. I identified with it, having known people like Hagar Shipley, and that made it easier to work out what was happening, what was really going on. The book I’m currently reading, Nicola Cornick’s The Phantom Tree, was one I’d been looking forward to in that way of a reader who loved the author’s previous book and doesn’t care what the next will be, they just want to read it. It’s in a similar vein to House Of Shadows but different enough – there’s a lovely difference between the narrative voices in the two books wherein Cornick has stuck to her writing style whilst delivering a new voice. Hopefully that makes sense!
I’m also slowly getting through Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing. I’m not keen on it, mostly because there is no suggestion, other than name usage, as to when the narrative has moved back and forth in time. The effect is huge – what could have been an interesting, pacey, book, is rendered confusing because you often don’t know where you are until a couple of pages into each chapter. Wyld is, I believe, the fourth ‘Granta best novelist’ I have read and I’m finding it intriguing that three of the four authors have something confusing in their narratives, as though to be a Granta Best Novelist one must be very vague. Xiaolu Guo. Helen Oyeyemi. Evie Wyld. Even Zadie Smith, who isn’t confusing as such, can be rather experimental. I’m wondering if I should keep a look out for the Granta line on covers so that I’m prepared and can plan my reading accordingly; I wouldn’t want to give them up but they’re best left for those times you’re particularly motivated.
Lastly, I’ve encountered my first erroneous blank page in a book. I read about this happening and it feels almost like a rite of passage. It was an early print so I doubt many will find it, though I believe at least one of you will know which book it was…
How is your reading going, and have you ever encountered a blank page?