Shaming myself into writing regularly

Writing ought to be a pleasure. But often it is not. I have had many professional writers among my friends over the years and meet some thirty of them over lunch monthly. Some are famous names, with the most illustrious probably having been the late P. D. James. Others are unfamiliar. They include historians, scientists, philosophers, biographers and a couple of novelists. For most, writing is a job. Once a book is started, it has to be finished, as soon as possible. So we tell each other of any props or inspirations we know to work.

A few years ago, after I’d begun a new book, I noticed that I would on some days become irritable if I were unhappy with my crop. I analysed my habits and realised I ought not to judge myself daily. A week would be a more reasonable time. But how could I see my progress without going over the writing of a whole week?

With this in mind, I decided to start a Writing Diary and to make the boring task of record-keeping as bearable as possible. Why not try to make it pleasure in itself? Thus I bought a leather-bound notebook and a fine calligraphic pen. Then, each weekend, in my slowest and best hand, like a medieval monk working on an illuminated manuscript for his abbot, wrote a short report beginning with the date and a long box inside which I gave myself a number of stars. The box was to stand out visually whenever I wanted to review the week. It worked. A box with five stars in it put a huge wind in my sail, while three stars were still encouraging. An empty box chastised me and demanded a close reading of the entry. Had I been going through the motions, merely, or were my explanations valid?

Dear fellow writer, thirteen months later I had 99,689 words winging their way to the publisher.

Looking back at the entries now, I can see that, as expected, they reveal the usual squirmings and fumblings, as well as the rarer triumphs, of the human being going back to the caves. Here’s an example:

Friday, January 17, |*_____|   I thought I knew what I wanted to say about Boethius. I was going to temper my praise for him because of his neo-Platonist rubbish. But then read Russell on him and was taken aback. He forgives him and adores him and I couldn’t not follow the great man. So, after a lot more reading beside Russell, I decided to tweak the preamble and the conclusion and so got only about 200 words extra this week. Nevertheless, I think I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I avoided a big blunder.

By contrast, here’s an entry to lift anyone’s heart:

February 7th: |*****|.   This is bliss. This is rare. I’ve almost finished a chapter in a single week, nearly 5000 words (on Beethoven) and know what I want to say to sum him up. And it’s a good chapter, even better than the one on Boethius. Much more emotional, of course. At this rate, I should finish in early May.

Only to be followed by a bleak sight:

May 18th: |______|. A horrible week. Managed to find only a few poems for the anthology. But the reasons were unavoidable. On Wednesday, we had to go to London for a matinee at the National which C had booked long ago. The next day I had to go to London again for the annual lunch I give Gill. On Friday, Cynthia arrived and we went to Charleston [Literary Festival] to listen to Charles. Again, I couldn’t not go. We were his guests. And yesterday and today I had to work in the vegetable garden and the greenhouse. The seedlings had grown gangly and falling over and the weather was perfect. C dragged me out.

 I’m reminded of a piece of advice I was once given by the great philosopher Sir Alfred Ayer. It was May 1987 and he had just finished his biography of Thomas Paine. As my friend John Kilbracken hugged Freddy’s lovely girlfriend, Cynthia, Mrs Robert Key, poor Freddy had to sip white wine with me. He told me that all I had to do to produce a book a year was to write 500 words a day. His mercurial mind and joyous company so lifted me that later in the evening I described it in my diary in doggerel. Here’re a couplet:

 Of course, now that I’m seventy-seven,

I can’t write philosophy that fast.

But Tom Paine’s life was easy;

So many have written on him in the past.

Isn’t life unpredictable? I’m myself now both 77 and writing philosophy.


About Hazhir Teimourian, MA (Phil.), FRAS, MISST.

'Late love, if kindled, leads to scandal', says an old Persian proverb : Why bother 'to blog’ at 71? I find myself these days – August 2011 – one of the few grizzled old men of Middle East commentary still walking. Even though I was last on regular public view in 1996 – in the pages of The Times – broadcasters still remember. On some particularly hot days – and the past six months of the “Arab Spring” have seen many hot days – the BBC arrange for me to give up to 24 interviews to their innumerable national and local radio stations before breakfast: Every 8 minutes from 6 to 9, one of them is connected to my ISDN line – a miracle of modern technology that turns your desk into a radio studio – and that station gets about five minutes of reflection on the subject that’s making the headlines. This is partly explained by their own correspondents being stretched in the field, and partly by the convenience of the high-quality sound that the ISDN line provides. At short notice, it may prove hard to get a younger, more attractive commentator to a studio. But it must also have something to do with the bonds of friendship that develop across the years between broadcasters and print journalists - even more generally in the whole of the political class and across ideological lines. Until recently, I had on my noticeboard a fading piece of paper bearing an address in the City, in the Barbican. It was written by the late and beloved Brian Redhead – the John Humphries of his day – and it was his home address. One morning in 1990 in the Today office in Broadcasting House, he dragged me to his desk and wrote down the address and asked that I visit him and his wife at home. Unfortunately, I never did. In those days – remember the gassing of the Kurds of Halabja in 1988 by the accursed Saddam or the invasion of Kuwait in 1990? – it sometimes felt as if I lived at the BBC, to the annoyance of the Foreign Desk at The Times. (I was told that Simon Jenkins, at one of his first morning conferences as Editor, had asked: “Who is this man Teimourian who is everywhere described as of The Times”? Later, he told me – or threatened me – that he read every word I wrote, but he was also gracious enough to ask me to have breakfast with him at the fabulous Connaught Hotel, where he lived.) Thus I have accumulated many ‘friends’ I have never met, from Sydney to Calgary, through Dublin, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and New York. Sorry for the digression. Why am I starting what the young call a ‘blog’ in my 8th decade? Well, first of all, let’s see whether it lasts and whether anyone will read it. It’s probably a whim and one last attempt at weaving my way into the company of the glamorous young. I was once their darling and old longings die hard. As the Persians say: Eshqe piri, gar bejonbad / Sar be rosva’i zanad (Late love, if kindled / Leads to scandal.) But assuming it lasts, it won’t do any harm to hear the occasional reflections of a man who has watched the world from the privileged position of the British media superpower for over 40 years. If it becomes embarrassing, hopefully my family and friends will gently let me know that it’s time I spent the remainder of my time in the greenhouse talking to my aubergines. A glimpse of my career and some of my past writings can be found at or . You may also be interested in and . I am on the Council of the former, under Andrew Green, and a non-parliamentary member of the latter. The Cross-Party Group is chaired jointly by Frank Field (Lab.) and Nicholas Soames (Con.) and includes such non-partisan figures as former Archbishop Lord Carey and the former Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd. Update (April 2017): for more up-to-date information, please see or my Author Profile on Amazon.
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