For the three years I managed Lumb Bank, one of Arvon’s writing centres, where I worked with many hundreds of writers, from aspiring writers who attend courses to the famous and accomplished who tutor the week.
The centres are a retreat from the world where all that matters is writing (though cake comes a close second). Each week I would host evening sessions from the tutors and visiting guests who read from, and talk about, their work and their writing practice.
Time and time again they would recall their early days, when they squeezed writing around full time jobs and family commitments. In fact, even for the most successful writers writing is not necessarily a full time job. I remember Andrew Motion saying how even now gets up before 6am to write. By 9.00 or 10.00 he has to start the job of being a writer which involves emails, meetings and talks, all the distractions that aspiring writers complain keeps them from writing.
Philosophy for writing
In his book and website ‘Philosophy for Life’ Jules Evans asks what self-help techniques we can learn from different philosophies. The readings at Arvon follow an ancient model called exemplum which Evans explains comes from the idea that as social animals a lot of our behaviour “comes from observing and emulating others.” He outlines the idea of ‘modelling’ by social psychologist Albert Bandura, “from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.”
Writers as role models
Plutarch (born 46 AD) was called Europe’s schoolmaster and his teaching centred on the benefits of emulating the feats of past heroes. This is a valuable technique that can apply to all areas of life, including writing. As Evans says: “We can, to some extent, consciously choose the models we emulate, to try to bring out the best and highest in us, rather than the lowest or the worst.”
One reason Plutarch fell out of favour is that his ideas could lead to a cult of the hero. Indeed I have a dangerous fascination with writers and their habits, as one look at my book shelves will demonstrate.
However, I do believe that writers are valid role models and this blog will explore writers’ habits and what we can learn from them. It will also feature research I have done with writers, review books on writing and my experiments with some of the methods outlined in them, and apply lessons from other disciplines such as psychology or philosophy. It is my adventure with writing habits. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Photo credits: A big thanks to Lee Richardson Foster for permission to use his brooding photo of Lumb Bank and to Janet Awe, a friend and attendee on the 2012 TV Writing course at Lumb Bank. Pictured left to right: me, David Allison, Chloe Moss and Paul Abbott.