The reason more people don’t write novels isn’t the writing. Sure, that’s hard enough — but if you’re a writer, writing is the juice. The reason is the moment before you write, in which all your fear, loneliness, self-doubt, insecurity, and anxiety, floods in like canal water through a sluice gate. And that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is how long that moment lasts. And what you do with that moment. Me? Six hours on a couch, immobile, ‘about to write’. Checking Seek for lecturing positions in Melbourne. Making Facebook inactive. Making it active again. Inactive. Making coffee; that’ll do the trick. No, it won’t. And doesn’t. Lunch? It’s only 11 o’clock! Bugger it, the carbs will get me going. No, they’ll actually make me nod off. The moment drags on, and all those things that washed in and flooded round as you waited in the turbulent waters of the lock get ratcheted up … and up … and up. Suddenly you’ll take any job going, as long as it liberates you from the isolation. Forget the lecturing positions in Melbourne. A comms role in the Education Department at the University of Auckland — $45k a year — that’ll do me.
Writing is like an encounter of love. Energising while it’s going. Terrifying before it kicks off. Dark when it’s faded. When you write — creatively, I mean, not for the comms position at the Auckland Uni; not even for this shitty blog, which is pretty much the most idolatrous distraction I have — everything you are in that moment comes into play. Everything you’ve recently said or done, enjoyed or regretted. The reason the moment of anticipation lasts so long and feels so traumatic is because it’s in that moment you realise you’re not just the narrowboat in the lock, you are also the sluice gate; you are also the floodwaters of the canal. It’s all you. All that darkness and doubt, fear and self-loathing. It’s ALL generated by you, because this why you’re a writer. You write because it’s all there, just below the surface. And it’s right there because you’re a writer. And until the moment when your fingers actually hammer words into the keyboard and you see them taking shape on the screen, it’s the worst feeling in the world. Actually, that’s not quite true. Being told you have breast cancer is far worse — as an example. But then melodrama and narcissism also find their way through the sluice gate. Add them to the list of pathologies would you nurse!
‘Writing is our bitch,’ says DBC Pierre in Release the Bats. ‘It’s robust, it’s plastic. Against all the monkeys the job can put on our backs stands one truth: it’s not a book until it’s finished, and finishing it means getting past the monkeys.’
I hate monkeys.
And, more ominously, this: ‘If we’re coming to the page with feelings, if we’re writing from ourselves, it can start a blaze. And if we have a kill-switch — psychological programming to fail or come second — it will physically obstruct us when we begin to write well, or to write of our own dark.’
That’s why most writers don’t write; the kill-switch. I get it, completely. For six hours today I sat on the couch, flicking the kill-switch on and off. Being hungover didn’t help, but that doesn’t always matter. In every way, it was a complete waste of time. The absolute best thing I can say about today is that at least I was dressed in more than my underpants. That’s not always the case.
BUT … I came through the other side, and I started again. I wrote some things. Not just this stuff. Real things. Things that one day may matter. And some days, that’s all you have to celebrate. But it’s no small thing. It’s every thing.
I borrow from DBC Pierre one more time:
‘We’re writing now. It’s a serious job. The stakes are all or nothing. And we have nothing to lose. EVERYTHING WITHIN OUR CONTROL IS NOW SUBSERVIENT TO THE WRITING.’