It is a great pity, but also somehow inevitable that there are certain occasions when we do not write. There can be many reasons for this, a thousand excuses: being ‘too busy’, being distracted by other writing work, having friends or lovers eager for us to return to them and shrug off the necessary solitude that writing brings. And so it happens that even an outing or event that strikes us at the time with peculiar force, may sometimes be allowed to slip down the to-do list until the lustre of the moment fades and imperative of the verb ‘to write’ dims.
I should know better than to let this happen to me, and yet it seems to be the story of this year in Wales in which a thousand different writing projects contend in my mind for precedence at any one time and then, somehow, the least obligatory but probably the most helpful task of recording the present moment is the first to be sacrificed. I say most helpful, because if these past few years have taught me anything about writing it is this: the most imperative thing for the writer is to write regularly and preferably every day. It is not only that writing regular journal entries provides us with useful anecdotal working notes or sketches that we can upcycle into literary fiction, but that the benefits of writing every day for the writer are the equivalent of drawing from observation for the artist or scale practise and technique exercises for the musician. No athlete would attempt a marathon without significant training, so why would you plunge straight into writing a novel or a short story? Writing every day is about developing a disciplined working practice as well as generating plenty of raw material. It can become a way of testing the limits of our craft and experimenting with new ground. Writing every day keeps the creative writer in good condition; our mind becomes lean and sharp.
The fact that I have realised the importance of keeping a regular diary or journal is why I have accumulated such a number of different on-line blog scripts over the past five years. Narratives such as Letters from Iceland and 833 words a day form an important reserve of memories as well as serving as a practical record of my personal and creative development. The longer I kept annual accounts of my life and the greater reservoir of time I poured into it, the more I realised that this compulsion to write was not narcissistic, but first a prerequisite for any real writer and also a valuable and easy way for me to hone my craft.
This leads me towards a deeper and more general point which is that it is the things that we do regularly that we come to love most and become best at. It is when writing is in the very skin, the very sinew of the skating hand or tapping finger that the question ‘How do I write this chapter?’ or ‘what shall I do with this character?’ becomes suddenly irrelevant. Writing from life is therefore ineluctably tied to fiction writing. If our minds, our personalities, our psychologies, our likes and dislikes are exhibition spaces of our experiences so too are our stories. They are complex matters of craft and technical organisation and arrangement, but their basic material is psychic. ‘Writing is thinking,’ my supervisor once said to me. It is a learning-by-doing process.
In his melancholic and at times rather belligerent work Autobiographies R.S. Thomas equates his ambidexterous identity as an English-Speaking Welshmen (later of course a Welsh-speaking Welshman ) with his ‘suicide’ as a creative writer. He may write prose in Welsh but not poetry, or at least not in as accomplished a manner as he would wish. I would suggest a playful subversion of Thomas’ formula. Our twinnedness as writers and speakers of many or different languages does not spell suicide for the creative writer, but abandoning journal writing does. And so, tentatively, I pick up my pen from where I left off and begin the long process of dredging up the most gleaming, and gem-like of the Welsh days I have had here, most of them accompanied by Tom.