I am currently on tour with a musical version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol. We’ve just completed three weeks in Leeds.
One day we had the afternoon free so we jumped in the car to take a road trip to Howarth where the Bronte sisters lived and wrote in the heart of the Yorkshire countryside.
Having loved reading both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, it was fascinating to visit the family home where Charlotte, Anne and Emily wrote their celebrated novels.
I’ve written before of my fascination with where true creativity takes place – amazing things are regularly born in humble garden sheds or tiny attic rooms.
The Bronte sisters, whose novels are so rich with observed detail, lived very simply in an unassuming parsonage.
Some observations that apply to all creative people:
1. Your imagination is greater than your surroundings –
It’s easy for all of us to make excuses: if only I lived in Paris I’d be able to write my manuscript. If only I lived in LA I could be in movies. If only I had access to a big market I could sell my artwork. We often craft geographic fantasies of how our artistic practice would be so much better SOMEWHERE ELSE. The Bronte sisters lived in a small parsonage house, with a tiny kitchen and a shared living room/dining room where they sat around a table writing and doing needlepoint. The surrounding village, while quaint, was hardly going to inspire much. The surrounding countryside is pretty, but often grey and bleak. But none of this mattered. The sisters had vivid imaginations and observed human behaviour deeply – both key ingredients to good fiction. Quit making your physical surroundings an excuse.
2. A dull daily life can lead to a rich inner life –
The Bronte sisters worked in the home, as well as outside of the home as Governesses and teachers. They also took turns cooking, cleaning and keeping up the family home for the father, aunt and other relations. The day to day routine was pretty similar, and often quite mundane. But as they stirred the soup pot or worked on their stitching, their minds were free to concoct exciting plots and incidents for their writing. The sameness of their routine meant that their energies could go into their writing and not into dealing with daily crisis. Their dramas could play out on the page and not in their daily lives.
3. Routine is the best friend of productivity –
The secret to writing a book? Steady, daily work. The secret to just about any creative practice? Regular hours. The Bronte sisters, freed from distraction and chained to hearth and home and a daily routine of teaching, cooking, cleaning could also dedicate regular hours to their writing. Slow, steady work turned out accomplished novels.
4. Life can be short and harsh – and neither are an excuse.
Two of the sisters were dead by the age of 30 and yet that didn’t stop them from publishing novels that are still read 150 years after their death. Time waits for no one.
5. Surround yourself with others who share your dreams.
When you walk in the door of Howarth, on your left is the sitting room shared by the sisters. A table sits in the middle next to the fireplace. One can imagine them sitting and writing. Stopping from time to time to read something out loud or discuss their latest stumbling point. Did they compete with one another to see how much each could write at a given time? A race to get to the finish? A friendly and consoling ear when writer’s block strikes? I’m not a Bronte expert – but I don’t need to be to know that surrounding yourself with like-minded people is one of the fastest ways to achieve your goals. The Bronte sisters had this network.
Okay, there’s actually one more point that ties into much of what we’ve been discussing lately: until your basic needs are met, it’s very hard to be creative. But once your basic needs are met (a roof over your head, regular meals) frugal living provides space for flourishing ideas.
Whatever creative obstacle you’re currently facing, ask yourself ‘how would Charlotte, Anne or Emily deal with this?’