Monday Writing Motivation: Repetition with variation

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

Over ten years I have written – as I recently announced with a little fanfare – some 500 Monday Writing Motivations. I’m currently taking a break – but thought that it might be fun to keep your Monday stockings filled with past musings. Rather than pick out my favourites – or your favourites – I’ve simply settled on the 100th, the 200th, the 300th and the 400th blog. Here’s the first, written while Trish and I were struggling through adverse winds up the River Lee in the good ship Patience.

Here’s the 100th Monday Writing Motivation: Repetition with variation

One of my favourite definitions of art is that it is repetition with variation. There are, we all sadly acknowledge, no new ideas in the world – just old ones presented in new ways.

These thoughts recurred on a trip in our narrowboat up and down the Lee Navigation. The Lee – or Lea – is a river that runs down through Essex and east London into the Thames at Limehouse Basin. It is not always the most beautiful waterway. For miles it skulks along through a modern industrial landscape: large featureless buildings with names that give away nothing of whatever’s happening within, flanked by car parks. One of the few idiosyncratic – that is to say, human – features of this long industrial corridor is a tiny workmen’s café, cheerfully offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, squeezed in between enormous factories.

But I digress…

Repetition with variation… The same old same old… dressed up in new clothes, given a fresh coat of paint, or make-up, taught the steps to a new dance…

Take our journey up the Lee, for instance.

We cruised out of Limehouse on Monday morning. Our mooring was just a short walk, by the way, from The Grapes, which featured most memorably in Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend: It was, he wrote, “A tavern of dropsical appearance… long settled down into a state of hale infirmity. It had outlasted many a sprucer public house, indeed the whole house impended over the water but seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.”

Another digression. Mmm. It’s going to be difficult writing this in less than a few thousand words.

Back to the Lee: First we cruised up the navigation. We made heavy weather of the way up. The locks were formidable. The wind was cold. Clouds glowered overhead. I huddled in a winter coat at the tiller.

We passed through a gauntlet of narrowboats, home to hundreds of Londoners who daily make the trek from their homes on the water to dismal office blocks scattered across the city. I was screamed at by one woman who believed my bow-wave was larger than regulations dictated. I nearly lost my Kindle when a gust of wind hurtling round the corner of a factory blasted across the stern, sending our guide to the waterways spinning into the canal where it promptly sank and smashing my entire library of ebooks to the stern deck.

Quarrels beset us. Should we have given ourselves more time to cruise to Bishop Stortford? Shouldn’t we have lingered in London?

We moored at last in Broxbourne, a town whose ancient meaning was Badger’s Stream, beneath towering horse chestnuts.

And then, in due course, repeated the entire journey, in reverse.

And here beginneth the lesson, dear readers. For the journey back, although identical in every respect to the journey there, was at once different in every respect.

The sun shone with more enthusiasm than it has yet managed this year. No one shouted at me. Gentle zephyrs caressed us. The canal at times seemed lined with elderflower in full and fragrant bloom. We met fellow narrowboaters whose natural friendliness charmed us. We struck up a conversation with a walker on the towpath who turned out to be… George R.R. Martin, author of Songs of Ice and Fire (aka Game of Thrones). I was about to tax him with his failure to deliver volume six of the saga, when he revealed that he’d been resident in England for the past fifty years… Not George at all, although he was the spitting image.

But that was the only disappointment of the return journey.

The same journey, with infinite variation. Like all stories. The same story, but completely different. So take a bleak and desiccated idea, turn it on its head, or run it past you in reverse, and, lo, something entirely new can emerge.

Happy writing,


P.S. Need some help with your writing over the holiday season? Check out Jo-Anne’s blog on honing your craft and developing your writing practice over the festive season.

P.P.S. Dreaming of a holiday where you can devote yourself to your writing with no distractions? How about joining us in Stow-on-the-Wold in the UK, Barrydale in the Western Cape, South Africa or Venice, Italy?

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