Monday, February 1, 2010

Hopes and Hobbies: February Begins

The Month That Was

January was a strange one. About five days of summer here in Wellington, the rest an admixture of autumn and winter. Perhaps I'm being unkind. After all, I managed to get to Kapiti Island, Karori Wildlife Sanctuary and roam the South Coast in search of native birds and trees. I cooked on the barbeque four times (I can't use it in a northerly as the wind blows the flames out). I even swam in Lyall Bay (but only once, on Saturday). And it didn't rain as much as my last full summer (in Edinburgh), but now I sound like I'm really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

A Design For Life?

I look out my window on a day like today (high of 15 degrees, drizzle, strong southerly, and can't help but think those kite surfers are on to something. Back on Saturday when it was calm and 26 degrees, Lyall Bay was left to the tanners, sand-castlers, and bathers. Today, the bay belongs to wet-suited daredevils. And where are the tanners, sand-castlers, and bathers: at home watching Campbell Live, clipping their toenails and nursing a severe bout of Mondayitis.

The kite surfers have managed to find a way to turn a bad day into a good one. Isn't that the secret of a good hobby?

The same goes when the wind is slightly different and the bay belongs to the wind surfers (sometimes they try to share with the kite surfers, but one form of wind-propulsion generally prospers). When the swell is up, the plain old surfers don't care if it's raining or blowing a gale…

When it still and sunny, the -surfers can laze around with the rest of us. A sunny day is the day we least need hobbies. Am I right?

I used to be into Fantasy Football, as in American Football. Most of the games are played on a Sunday afternoon in the States, which corresponds to the early hours of Monday morning in New Zealand. I would wake each Monday during the football season, eager to find out how my players had performed. After a scanning the box scores, I would head to work, my head filled with calculations of points scored and players left to play. The Sunday evening games would take place on Monday afternoon my time, and I'd hurry home from work to check the latest developments in my match-up and watch the highlights on ESPN. During the sixteen week fantasy football season, Mondays were one of my favourite days.

But like everything pre-empted with the word 'fantasy', my attention eventually waned. This year, I didn't have a fantasy football team, haven’t watched the box scores, nor trekked down to the nearest sports bar to watch a prime time contest. My Mondays have reverted once more to the first day of the working week and nothing more.

I'm in two minds whether writing counts as a smart hobby or not. It's certainly well suited to dodgy weather (and is less attractive on the beaut days). And it can fill your head with distracting thoughts on the bus to work on a Monday morning. If you could siphon off this aspect from any ambition, if you just wrote for fun, then sure, it's a great hobby.

If, on the other hand, you want people you've never met before to read your writing (a strange desire when you think about it, but most writers are strange people), then you can't help but let your writing thoughts seep into your working day. Your sunny days spent at the beach are tinged with guilt. You're never writing enough, or well enough. There's never enough time.

The perfect hobby should better fill your time, but the writing bug is insatiable. It demands you spend days writing when you are better off earning a crust, playing sport or socialising with friends. No wonder so much literature is obsessed with lost time. With looking backwards. Writing is a deliberate slow-down of life, because to be a writer comes with sacrifices.

No more fantasy football. No kite surfing lessons. I want random people to read my stories.

The Month That Will Be

So what will February have in store?

I can't control the weather, but I do have some control over what I do here at my desk. My head still isn't back into Novel B, but it needs to be. My theme for this month, therefore, is Writing a Novel. Not: How To Write A Novel, because although I have completed two, neither were published, and this third one sure isn't writing itself. Rather, I hope to open a few windows on the living, breathing process of writing a difficult manuscript.

I will look at those cloud-burst moments when an idea arrives perfectly formed; the issue of point of view and narrative voice; and why I keep falling out of love with this manuscript.

In navel-gazing once a week, I hope to finally get my head right, address a few lingering issues, and return my full focus to the novel. For the contemporary reader, I make no promises. My only hope is that the novel gets finished (soon) and published… perhaps then these February fumbles will be of interest.

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