Physical work is a counterpart to writing. I wrote my first novel while working in a furniture workshop; I wrote dozens of short stories, and started Riptide, while making yurts for a carpenter.
As a teacher, my life is at once more manic and more sedentary, but my ongoing house restoration has provided frequent and occasionally brutal reminders of what it is to work with my hands. This weekend, it was the turn of the garden. Along with my dad and my father-in-law, I put up a fence, laid a patio, cut down two trees and cleared a ton of rubble. It’s been an exhausting, sweltering few days, and my hands and arms are riddled with scratches and grazes and splinters, but that seems a fair price to pay for the achievement.
Physical labour is good for my brain. It allows me to switch off, for a while, through either the concentration or monotony of the task, and the blank space it leaves allows the formation of thoughts. Climbing does the same trick. About halfway through the fencing, I had a mini-brainwave about my new novel. Two sequences quietly switched places, and the narrative opened up a little more. I’m coming closer to blocking out the plot all the time, just making notes and letting it simmer in the background. Even if my hands are cut to shreds, it’s healthy to remember how to use them for more than typing.