The Clockhouse Retreat Diary – Part 2

Wednesday 13 April:




Extract from polka dot notebook (the one supposed to be a visitor book for my flat but I defaced with scribbles 🙂


First real day of writing for ages. Started late – circa 10.30 – had wanted to do a 9–5. Maybe tomorrow. But feels useful. Did recap of research – made some notes and wrote intensively for an hour or so. OK stuff – not amazing but not bad. … So have written in total today about two hours actual poetry and about one hour prose notes.


I learnt an invaluable lesson writing my last book. Must change the way I write poems. This is how I wrote before: first draft, second draft, third draft etc until the poem was polished. Repeat. It served me well at first but proved painfully slow for longer projects. I kept getting stuck on individual poems

This week I’m writing first drafts only. My mantra: Quantity not quality.

Today I began with morning pages in the black notepad:


… to serve as a kind of … limber up as am so rusty from (not) writing. This place smells brand new and the birds are singing in the background. I’m really not used to writing prose longhand but tablet keyboard was driving me nuts.


Years ago I wrote everything in pen and ink, loving the physical act of writing. But now, this half hour of scrawling stream of consciousness, is a challenge. I’m missing my PC, the writing’s illegible and I want to be able to reread this. Who writes any more? Yet this week is about what Miranda (France) calls falling back in love with writing. And morning pages is part of reconnecting with the muse, getting past the critical voice that says, this is rubbish. During morning pages you’re allowed to write ‘rubbish’.

Do I write differently in longhand? I’m definitely more spontaneous. Did I subconsciously develop bad handwriting to protect my work from prying eyes, as if it were written in code only I and my teenage friends could decipher? Maybe longhand’s more private then, and I, emerging from a long period of struggling to get into the zone, am enjoying this intense privacy.

In the space of a morning I progress from longhand to tablet and write two poems. I press print and run, yes run, downstairs to retrieve them from the printer. If someone else accidentally saw them I’d be physically sick with anxiety. No-one’s allowed to read these first drafts, not even me!

Going downstairs reminds me I’m at the Clockhouse and I’m hungry and it’s lunchtime and Tiffany will arrive this afternoon effervescent with creative writing teaching and trains and I’ll be glad to see she has a bigger suitcase than me. How is it that here I can write solidly for three hours whereas at home I’d have seen a message blink on my phone and been unable to ignore it? At home I let the outside world infringe but here it’s so easy to switch off the 21st century.

Late afternoon, I go for a walk around the grounds and see a huge tree that’s been chopped down. I wish I knew what kind of tree it was. When I was young I lived in the countryside and could name all the trees.

This week isn’t just about connecting with the muse, it’s about reconnecting with the natural world, taking inspiration from a place so different to where I live it feels like a foreign country. It’s about slowing down, giving space and time to ideas that have been put on hold in a folder, or deleted from an iPhone. It’s about privileging the writing and the writer. The luxury flat, the state-of-the-art kitchen, the stunning landscape turns on its head the idea I’ve always challenged: the artist must suffer to create.



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