From the window of my study I can see the top of a chestnut tree. (Actually that’s a lie because to my shame I don’t know what type of tree it is, but I know that in writing it is always better to be specific.) I spend all together too much time looking at this tree and yet I never spot the moment when the last leaf falls, or the day when spring arrives and it is finally, gloriously verdant green again.
I mention the tree for two reasons: it marks the passage of time, and it is a great metaphor for writing.
First things first. As a kid I remember watching the film of the ‘Time Machine’ in which time was indicated by the changing fashions in the window of a shop, hems rising and lowering, styles evolving until eventually there is no shop at all. The tree for me is like that shop. I look out and it is green and then one day I look up and it is red and then on a day like today I look up and it is starkly naked. And all the time I am at my desk, in my own private time machine putting words on a page. I live in this insulated world, outside of time, in the eternal present of story. It is always a shock to realise that I can be several seasons adrift, that my time and real time don’t always run together. And then I get to the metaphor part. Just as I never notice the moment of transition from Spring to Summer, Autumn to Winter, I never notice the exact moment a fleeting thought becomes a plot idea, a name on a page becomes a real person, a bare branch of a story buds and thickens into full leaf and suddenly there it is fully formed on the page. I work on it every day, just as I look at the tree every day and yet the moment of transformation from one stage to another always passes me by.
I don’t know what that means, if indeed it means anything, unless that maybe when we are working we don’t see the wood or the tree until suddenly we do and we are finally, gloriously done.