Monday, 3 July 2017

Writing Routines by Debra Daley

The first thing I do each morning is meditate for around fifteen or twenty minutes. Nothing fancy, just concentrating on my breath. I love the time just before dawn when the present moment is quiet and the day to come feels full of promise. The sounds that you can hear are meant to be there – birds, the wind in the branches, rain pattering on the corrugated iron roof. Sometimes on a misty morning a hulking container ship will sound its horn as it slides into the harbour. 

Meditation helps me work at being focused and undistracted. I’m not always successful at that, but at least I have the intention. Occasionally I practise various kinds of pranayama. These are methods for controlling the breath, which is the source of prana, or vital life force. I believe in nurturing the life force as a first defence for keeping illness at bay. After meditating I practise yoga for about thirty minutes.

Writing is an unhealthy occupation. The sitting for hours. The racing mind. As I’ve got older I feel the effects more of long hours at my desk. In order to tell the stories that keep welling up in my mind, and to be here for the people I love, I want to remain as healthy as possible. That means staying limber and keeping the joints lubricated. I’ve practised yoga for many years. I’ve always been a physical person. I need to vent the psychic energy that builds up from too much mental work by running or, more usual these days, walking. I used to practise ashtanga, a vigorous style of yoga, but in the last year I have preferred a more intuitive yin approach. I love backbends and balances especially. I practise mudras too – hand and finger gestures. 'Mudra' in Sanskrit means "sealing in energy". I hope that mudra work will keep my fingers pliable and thwart the onset of arthritis. I would hate not to be able to use my hands fully.

If the weather’s agreeable, I inspect the garden looking for things that need to go on my to-do list and picking anything that's ripe. I've had a good crop of cabbages and cauliflowers this season and a poor crop of leeks. 

I grow most of the food we eat, and raise most of the crops from seeds or cuttings. Sometimes I will walk down to the beach and gather kelp to use in the garden, or driftwood and pine cones thrown up by storms for the fire.

It’s winter now here in Oceania, and the citrus trees are in fruit, but otherwise the garden tasks are less pressing. I should have turned the compost this week and dug in manure for the garlic beds, but I haven’t. I tell myself that I am preserving my energy for the spring rush. 

On a good day I’ve got all of this out of the way in order to be at my desk at nine. I work from home. I try to approach the everyday income-earning work with equanimity, although of course I would always rather be writing fiction. I always dispatch the income work first, so that I can reward myself with creative writing after that. If I’ve been editing or copywriting, I will switch from my desk to the sofa by the window to take up my fiction work. I’m in the first draft of a new novel at the moment, which means I’m writing primary material, and I prefer to do that by hand. For years I wrote in cafes and libraries and sometimes even on buses. I wrote my last novel but one, Turning the Stones, in this peripatetic way. I could do it because I had to, but temperamentally I’m more suited to the hermitage. These days I have a room of my own and there is not a day that I do not deeply appreciate it.

This is the view from the sofa. The jars on the window sill are my sourdough starter. I bake two big loaves of bread once a week. I planted all the trees you can see here: a Villa Franca lemon, a Queen palm, two olive trees, one Greek and one Italian, a pomegranate tree that is leafless at the moment. In the background, across the valley are massive oak trees planted by settlers in the 19th century, and a stand of regenerated native trees. My maternal family settled in this region in the 1860s and developed a farm they called Silver Park. 

During the years when my children were growing up, writing fiction was secondary to being a provider – although I did keep writing whenever I could carve out an hour here and there. I don't regret those years. I just tried to play a long game. I knew that eventually I would have the time again to devote to a writing career – and now I do. And having to wait so long for it, I guard my time most jealously.

May everybody be happy.

May everything move in the right direction.

1 comment:

Leslie Wilson said...

I do taiji. Apparently Margaret Atwood recently recommended all writers to do back exercises. Because you can't work so well if you're in pain. It looks like you work really hard as well as being a writer!