A couple of people have mentioned to me that they haven’t noticed me blogging of late. So, what have I been up to? Apart from hiding from the sun, of course. Well, I’ve been writing. Nothing new in that. But, what is kind of new, is that I have been trying to enjoy writing.
When I went on my Icelandic Retreat earlier in the year and the faculty of illustrious authors was lined up for a final question and answer session, someone from the audience asked about the process of writing. One of the authors grabbed hold of the microphone and proceeded to tell us how much she absolutely loved it. She was at her desk first thing in the morning, tap tapping away on her keyboard before her husband left for work. She would spend all day having such fun with her marvellously entertaining characters and, when her husband returned home in the evening, she’d still be at her desk, having lost all track of time and completely forgotten to feed herself, without having budged an inch.
While others in the room smiled and nodded in recognition of this sweet scenario, my heart sank. My god, I thought, is this what writing is like for these people? When I sit down to write, I am overcome within the first ten minutes by a desperate longing to unload the dishwasher. Plus, there’s no way I’d ever forget to feed myself, as I need to pour a gallon of tea and a packet of chocolate digestives down my throat just to make it from the first sentence to the next.
At the Q&A session, the microphone was passed to the next author in line who took it reluctantly, hesitated for a moment, then said, ‘I hate writing.’ Everyone laughed. Ha ha. No please, I thought, don’t let that be a joke. He went on to quote another writer (I can’t remember who) who apparently once said something like, ‘I love having written.’ Yes. Yes. Yes.
Writing is only enjoyable once it’s over. Or, on the infrequent occasions when it’s going really well. The first writer who grabbed that microphone must, I suppose, be blessed with a ready backlog of of ideas, scenes and characters just waiting to spill out onto the page and they must spill out in an instantly coherent, imaginative and engaging way. Writing really isn’t like that for me.
Recently, I read Ruby Wax’s ‘A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled,’ in which she reminds us how much time we spend planning for an idyllic future which, when it arrives, we often forget to enjoy. For example, think about how much time we spend preparing for a holiday – choosing where to go, working and saving for it, getting our money exchanged, arranging dog sitters etc. And yet, how often do we find ourselves on that holiday thinking ahead to the next holiday, perhaps, or to when we get back home, or simply forgetting to cherish the moment in hand?
So, I’ve been trying to remember to enjoy writing, because that, supposedly, is what I want to do.
Mindfulness apparently takes a lot of practice. People go on mindfulness retreats in order to practice it. Well, recently, I went on another retreat to practice writing, to the lovely converted clocktower at Arvon’s Shropshire centre, The Hurst. Here, I had a self-contained flat with a desk, a shared kitchen with ready prepared home-cooked meals to pop in the microwave and all the provisions I needed. Peace and quiet, beautiful surroundings and a dishwasher that someone else unloaded before I ever got to it.
Once you have resigned yourself to the fact that there is no other task to perform, no excuse for distraction, you find you can stay at your desk for a remarkably long time and you can produce a remarkable amount of work. You can even enjoy the process, because you know that you will have written a considerable amount, not by the end of the week, or month, or year, but by the end of the day. I swore when I went home I would keep this up. I would keep enjoying it. But I failed. I couldn’t manage it any more than I can manage to go from one moment to the next thinking how wonderful life is.
Most of the time, when I’m writing I’m looking over my shoulder at what I’ve just written and I’m thinking it’s crap. Or, I simply can’t get the next words out the way I see them in my mind. That’s what makes it hard work, most of the time. That’s the reality.
And whilst it’s true that I did produce more material on my retreat, after I returned home and the idyllic veil had fallen away, I read over what I’d written and I saw that it was no better in terms of quality than what I usually write. There was as much editorial work to be done on it as ever.
I guess I should give myself a break and stop berating myself for not finding the writing process a font of unadulterated joy. It is a process towards an end. I am working towards the goal of having written. I am working towards finishing another novel. There will be times when I enjoy it, but more often it will be a struggle. Just like life itself. It may not always be joyful, but hopefully I can look back on it with some pride and satisfaction.
The title of this post, by the way, is taken from a quote from Hemingway who said, ‘ There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’