Like most journalists, I originally got into the profession because I love writing. I love the craft, the form, the polishing; expressing myself, then tweaking and fiddling with the phrasing and structure until, at last, I’m happy. But as the years have gone by – especially since having children – I have found that joy has become dulled. When you have to do something every day, it loses its thrill. You don’t give it your all any more.
Then I recently got to know (mostly over the internet) two wonderfully gifted writers. They both clearly put a huge amount of thought into every word they type, and are extremely talented. I love reading what they write, in the same way I love reading books by my favourite authors – Sebastian Faulks, Vikram Seth, Margaret Atwood. One used to work as an A&E doctor, so she’s not exactly a slouch, and the other blogs for all kinds of clients, and is so sharp I can’t keep up with her most of the time. And I’ve also discovered some pretty cool travel bloggers too, but I’m not going to gush about them, or you’ll be reaching for your sick bag.
They have both made me think about what, and how, I write. Isn’t it great when something is so good, it inspires you to try and be better? Rather than hating them for being so brilliant, and feeling jealous, they’ve made me reassess my own writing. When children seem to suck all the creative juices out of you, not to mention the energy, I find it’s a real battle to keep working to your full potential. To do the best you can. To keep up your own standards. When I look back a few years ago and read my pieces, they’re (whisper) better than the stuff I come up with these days. Now that’s a confession, isn’t it? Nothing like a bit of brutal honesty.
In order to write well, you need to be fresh – take a different view, not be jaded, and to think from new perspectives. So I’m going to try to go into Seville every couple of weeks, sit down somewhere quiet (ish), and just observe and contemplate. Not rush, not think about work/dinner/children. I need to get “back to basics”, at the risk of quoting a certain charisma-free politician. What can I see? What does it mean to me? What does it tell me about Seville? What would a first-time visitor make of it? It’s so easy to overlook the obvious.
The thing is, I know I can do it. It’s still in there somewhere, buried deep, under all the blog posts and travel round-ups. Because I also know what I don’t like. One travel book, recommended recently by another blogger, turned out to be exactly the kind of smug, self-satisfied American drivel I loathe. Give me the originals, Brenan or Lee, any day; or Michael Jacobs, who wrote my favourite book about Andalucia, Factory of Light. They’re my inspiration (I can see you’re cringing – bear with me – I know it’s hard, but please try).
And I’ve also read some shocking writing from young would-be journalists, whose cluelessness about the basics threw into sharp perspective, if you’ll pardon the cliche, exactly what good writing (reporting/blogging, as opposed to travel writing in this case) is all about. At least I still know what you shouldn’t do – it was a good reminder of exactly what the key skills for a journalist are. I just need the time, space and energy to focus on my own. Why do you think I’m writing this as 2.30am? Because I have the house to myself, of course. Isn’t this when all parents do their most important work? And why they always look shattered? Which is where la siesta comes in. Now there’s one particular custom in praise of which I think even I could produce a paean of poetic prose.