I was listening to Radio Four's Saturday Live the other week when Edwina Curry came on claiming that, "Your diary never tells you you're wrong."

Perhaps not for the first time, Mrs Curry is misguided. For sure, my diary is a place I can write without fear of outside judgement, but it is also a place where my own judgement, my own sense of right and wrong, of fairness, writes. It is through writing that I gain clarity about when I have not done what I would have wanted to do, in the way that I would have wanted to do it, as well as about what I can do to rescue the situation.

Maybe Edwina thinks she is perfect and never slips up? What a shame that she seems to be eschewing a safe and kind way of reflecting on herself and learning from that reflection.


I have written about a creative process in my book on writing blocks - the idea being that understanding our own personal creative process can help us to feel less blocked. I borrowed heavily from the Gestalt cycle. There are two stages in the Gestalt cycle - "satisfaction" and "the fertile void" - which may not, at first, be obvious components for a creative process. And yet writers do talk about them without naming them as such, Kathleen Jamie in The Guardian on the 17th of August, does just that.

She describes finishing a book as like, "Falling out of a tree ... Your self dissolves, you feel you're falling. Language withers. It's not a good place to be, but it's probably necessary."

This is what I have characterised as the "fertile void". The time between creative projects when we are waiting for the next one to appear. It is a time for our "unconscious" to do its work behind the scenes and begin to latch onto what we want to explore subsequently. It is a time for us - our minds and our bodies - to rest, to recuperate, to indulge in re-creation.

Before the fertile void comes "satisfaction" when we need to take pride in what we have done and sit and admire it (and have supportive others do the same). Sometimes we move too quickly away from satisfaction - it feels arrogant, it feels wrong - and into critiquing. I cannot tell, of course, but I do wonder if Jamie's fertile void is so painful because she has circumvented the satisfaction phase and not allowed herself to enjoy the fruits of her labours.


Since I've been working on my book about writing blocks, friends have been keeping an eye out for useful articles to send me. So it was that I saw "The Perils of the Pen" in The Guardian about AL Kennedy's recent bouts of illness which she has linked to overwork. Kennedy says it is definitely not to do with her trade: "If I were a plumber, I'd do too much plumbing and get sick, but nobody ever says plumbing makes you ill; it's always the arts." Though, in fact, I dare say there are aspects of plumbing that do effect your health adversely, just as there are with other jobs. All have their occupational hazards.

Kennedy goes further and appears to contradict the idea that writing can be therapeutic, although it's not clear whether she means this just for herself. She does the classic thing of using the generic "you" - as in, you become ill because "you haven't learnt how to process emotions fully and immediately". Who is this "you"? And does she include herself in it? Because, in my experience, writing can help in just such a processing of emotions.

The interviewer, Sarah Crown, also suggests Kennedy suffers because, "Writing isn't just a job for [her]: she has pushed all the furniture of her life - sleep, food, health - to the edges in order to make space for the central creative enterprise."

And, of course, I would never argue that writing in an unhealthy life style can offer any kind of answer. I wrote for four hours today (and yes my shoulder is a bit stiff!) But I also went for a swim, ate some nourishing soup and allowed myself to feel cared for. And I think my creative enterprise (which is indeed central) is the better for it.


My rest was disrupted last night. Some people count sheep, I count syllables:

Insomnia falls
on the tender neck of sleep,
night's execution.