I had a lovely soak in the bath this morning. Actually, it was just after 12, so technically this afternoon, but it followed breakfast, dinosaur games, tidying up a robot factory, coffee, crosswords, peace negotiations and rewarding diplomatic behaviour. I’m told that the Japanese particularly understand the benefits of a good soak, separating the cleaning from the soaking by having a shower first to get rid of the dirt and then slipping into the tub. Because they are clean when they get in, the bath water can be shared, but it also means that the soak can be entirely given over to relaxing, switching off, meditating, shedding off the cares of the day.
For many of my colleagues and me, the intellectual equivalent of a long soak in the bath is The Story, a day of 20-minute talks at Conway Hall in central London. This year’s edition was yesterday, and it began to have benefits before I’d even arrived, as I wrote a little story on the way in (finished off in my seat in the hall). It’s astonishing how little writing I do at work despite having the word Writer in my job title. So finding the freedom to sketch out a two-page piece of fiction was delightful. Even if the story wasn’t that good…
Actually a development at work recently has been the introduction of a creative writing exercise for my team every week. A simple creative prompt is given and we all scribble down some words, or a picture, or even a story. For me, the outputs are mixed, but that’s ok – when they are bad, they get disposed of discreetly; the better ones I might put up here.
And there is something of that same sense of freedom and creativity about the atmosphere at The Story that lends encouragement and inspiration to the writer within. Of the dozen talks yesterday, two or three really stood out. Dallas Campbell gave an entertaining summary of a tv show he’s been making about the history of the spacesuit, featuring a real cosmonaut spacesuit, and Daniel Meadows combined video and audio recordings from his archives with commentary in person to present his photographic work in the warmest and loveliest way imaginable.
Dedicated, talented people talking about their work or stories within their work… and most of us in the audience felt some affinity, if not with their achievements, then with their aspirations and ambitions.
But what happens when you lift yourself out of the warm soak and return to the normal environment of the chilly air, perhaps via the rough embrace of a towel…?
Well, for me, the right response is a renewed conviction that I have to try to develop my writing, find more of a voice, a niche, and try to make something creditable from my hopelessly irrepressible need to write. It’s not that I have any particular belief in my abilities, more that writing is the best way I have to engage with the world, and when I’m not writing, I feel so very awkward and ill-fitting in it. But if I’m going to write, I’d rather be a good writer than a poor one, so it deserves a bit of effort.
To that end, I am going to write more here this year. Stories, sketches, ideas and thoughts. I can’t vouch for the quality, but I’m hoping that practice will make … better, at least. And if it doesn’t, then I’ll just have to run another bath.