Writing - Getting on with it.
When I began writing in 2003, I had no study, no desk, and no time. Every bit of writing I did was snatched time and borrowed space. I wrote in the National Library, I wrote in cafes, I wrote in the garden and in bed. I learned that I should have a regular routine for writing, and I began a practice of getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning and writing for an hour or two. It was peaceful at this time, the house continued to sleep, and the time felt like free time, there were no other demands on it. Family life and work were forever taking precedence during the day; at night I'd be too tired to think about it. But in these sub optimal conditions, I wrote a lot. It was as if the struggle and the challenge even to find the physical conditions for writing somehow created a potent mental strength and determination to make it happen.
Now, I have a study, a desk, and all the time in the world. There is nothing to stop me from writing all day, every day, if I want to. What a gift this is, how lucky I am, how remarkably fortunate it is to be able to do what I dreamed of doing for so long, writing fiction, with nothing whatever to get in the way of it..
I have no regular writing routine any more, I write at any time of the day, anywhere in the house. Sometimes days go by, and I don't do any writing at all; then I'll spend most of a day working on something.
There is much else about my writing life that has changed over the years. I no longer go to writing groups and classes. I don't read much about writing like I used to do. I used to have writing mentors who I saw regularly, and writing friends who I talked with about writing. I went on writing retreats. Now writing is a much more isolated experience. Even small practices are different now, more somehow informal, like keeping my writing tasks and goals in my head instead of writing them down.
In the early years, I used to write about anything. I wrote down my dreams, I wrote a dialogue between an apple and a persimmon in an orchard. I wrote about childhood, about loneliness, about being stuck. Lots and lots about being stuck, (not an especially easy subject to move along.) I did a great deal of journaling. Life would never be long enough for all the things I wanted to write about.
In those same years, the world of publishing fiction was changing. Thousands of people just like me were doing creative writing classes, courses at University even, PhD's in writing! More fiction was being produced than ever before, but publishers were taking less and less of it. It became notoriously difficult to even get a publisher to look at your work; the 'pitch' became a new art form. There was talk of self publishing and e books, and lots of writers went down these roads, but most, like me, wanted to see their work published and read in print form.
My greatest goal was to write a novel. It was possibly the hardest thing I've ever done; it took an extraordinary amount of commitment, and concentrated time and energy. It was like making an extremely complex quilt, or going on a pilgrimage. For a long time, it was an exploration, I didn't know where I was going with it, or where it was taking me. Writing it was an immersive process, an adventure which had the euphoric highs and despairing lows of all real adventures. When I finally finished it, everyone who read it said it was wonderful. It was even picked up by an agent. But in the end it never got published, and now gathers dust on a shelf in my study, like a relic from the past.
The disappointment of this was like a slow acting poison for a while. I kept on writing, even rushing into 40,000 words of a new novel, but without the goal of publication, the process itself, the actual practice of writing, seemed less focussed, less energised. The motivation to do it had changed, and for a long time, I struggled to connect to what it had become.
As with everything in life, nothing stays the same for very long, things constantly evolve. Its mysterious that you can strive for something, long for it, work towards it assiduously, and finally achieve it, only to have it all gradually wash away, like an elaborate sandcastle in the tide. Something else takes your attention now.
Some writers say they write because they are compelled to, or they write for the joy of it. I think for many prolific and successful writers, writing is a habit that they've got into, which is a good thing, because a habit is hard to break. Writing is hard work to do well, as I discovered very early on. In the times when I am unmotivated, stuck, or struggling to know why I'm bothering to do it at all, reminding myself of this is a good anti-toxin. Its a pretty simple equation really - the harder I work at it, the better and more satisfying the result, and the more likely that readers will enjoy it. Inspiration, and surges of unstoppable creative energy have very small bit parts occasionally. Publication in one form or another is still the goal; I write because I want to be read.
I've returned to writing short fiction, finding that my way of telling stories is also evolving. The work of the last few months has been perfecting 14 short stories for a collection which is to be brought out by Finlay Lloyd. Some of these stories had their first incarnation years ago, and have been through so many versions they are now almost unrecognisable from their early form. All have been through multiple drafts and re-writes. Often its hard to know when a story is actually finished; its such an organic thing, you realise you could go on changing it forever.
There is very little magical about writing, only those euphoric Yes! moments when a sentence finally falls into the place it was destined to be in, like a rock finding its perfect position in a garden wall; or coming back to a story you have set aside for months because you were so over it you couldn't think straight any more, and breathing quietly to yourself, 'My God, that's good! How the hell did I do that?'
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