Every day is too many days

A couple of years ago, I read an interview with Hilary Mantel in the Guardian, where she said that people would ask her if she wrote every day, and she said of course she did, she's not some kind of dilettante. That's the advice, isn't it? Read a lot, and write every day. Write through the times you can't write, or when everything you put down is a load of rubbish.

While you're at it, stick pins in your eyes, and jump off a cliff because your friend told you to. Otherwise you're not a real writer! (Real writers, incidentally, write. Every day.)

It strikes me as a very puritan way of looking at the world, very north American, very bums-on-seats-work-through-the-pain. By that metric, I am a dilettante, and I have always been a dilettante, which is not to say that I don't write most days, because I do - just that don't you ever want to do a thing for the fun of it rather than to tick it off a list? Can you not just enjoy wallowing in the shallows, or speed-swimming through worldbuilding, without it also having to be directly for publication? Can't it ever be about the input, sometimes, rather than the output - or since that's still some kind of quantifiable productivity, can't it just be about the nothing in particular for a while?

It is only with the coming of Past Tense that I have been able to honestly answer that, "Yes, okay, sometimes." It is much easier not to want something when you already have a bit of it. It is also only since I have been doing Quite A Lot of writing that I've realised that it doesn't just mean "adding pages to your primary work in progress". I've kept a journal for cumulatively nearly half my life. I have, within ten feet of me in my office as we speak, hundred of pages of irreverent stream-of-conscious notes I've taken while reading other things. I have eight - count them! - unfinished and/or unedited novels bouncing about my desktop, none of which I have any intention of coming back to. I wrote them because they were fun, and I wanted to practise. I'm a far better writer for their existence. (You wouldn't have liked me a decade ago.)

And aside from that, there are months of the year where I can't write a damn thing, but I go on long walks and read a lot of chapters of other people's books and skip to the end of crime novels and I've sunk a whole lot of energy feeling bad about that. Why've you got to hate it for it to count as work? Why've you got to justify it? Why does it have to have an obvious A-to-B path. Do you not remember as a teenager, rereading the whole four pages of wish-fulfilment story you'd written, adding two lines of dialogue to it, and feeling satisfied with that? You were going to be a writer some day, and when you were, you'd do this every day. Every single one.

This week, I have mostly been smuggling a notebook into the back of the cinema, and then ignoring it completely because there's something interesting on screen.

127. Sicilian Ghost Story (film, dir. Fabio Grassadonia and Antonia Piazza, 2017)
128. Duck Soup (film, dir. Leo McCarey, 1933)
129. The Eyes of Orson Welles (film, dir. Mark Cousins, 2018)
130. The Guardians (film, dir. Xavier Beauvois, 2017)
131. Jacquot de Nantes (film, dir. Agnès Varda, 1991)
132. Mildred Pierce (film, dir. Michael Curtiz, 1945)

Of all of those, the one I was not expecting to affect me so hard was Sicilian Ghost Story, which was not what I was expecting, and heartbreaking, and all in all a stand-out piece of storytelling. Here is the best thing I've yet found to explain why. Some people thought it was too slow. I say that 779 days is a long time. Sicilian Ghost Story gave me a bruise in my heart.

At the end of Jacquot de Nantes, just as I was going to clear up the cinema, I got chatting to an old man who had just been in to see it. I had time to spare, and spent it listening to him talk about all-night obscure film marathons he had known. These are the moments at work that I live for. The stories! They are the point of it all, aren't they?

Duck Soup was absolutely not funny at all hang on a minute why am I literally crying with laughter. Harpo is the funniest Marx brother. Fight me.