So, you’ve survived the hell that is Christmas and the purgatory (literally in some cases) of New Year’s Eve, and you’re staring at a blank screen, waiting for the words to be transferred from the very depths of your soul into 12pt Times New Roman by that magical process they call ‘writing’. Or do I mean transformed from the very thing of emotion into cold, hard prose by that alchemical process they call ‘writing’? I don’t even know what I’m trying to say, and yet I call myself a writer? Where’s the desire to ‘put one of the bastards off his food’? (OK, so that was Rothko on the Seagram Murals, originally intended for the Four Seasons café). Where’s the hunt for truth, the rage for order, the massage for approximation? Where are my Madeleines?
Jeepers, sounds like you’ve got writers’ block, that scourge of creatives the world over, that evil Larkin described as when an irresistible force meets an immoveable object. This, Foucault, is the death of the fucking author (though obviously that was Barthes – even my memory is buggered), this Chinese water torture of insignificance, this death of a thousand Oxford commas, because a writer who cannot write is an abomination worthy of a leper’s bell, ‘uninspired, uninspired’, a writer who cannot write is simply pointless.
And this screen, this sheet of paper, this dictaphone that laughs, snide, sarcastic and sanctimonious in your face is only meant to be your New Year’s Reso-fucking-lutions, ffs!
Let’s face it, there’s only one resolution that counts, the rest are flim-flam, filler to make the real one less obvious, sacrificial desires to make the pace but who fall to the wayside, individually spent but contributing to getting the team leader, the Wiggins, the Frome (in the case of Hunter S. Thompson, the Armstrong) over that Once upon a timeline … you have resolved to write.
Now, take me. I’ve written a few things in my time. I’ve probably brought up my ton of articles, features and reviews. I’ve published five academic essays, written a 100k PhD Thesis, sixteen short stories, two and a half novels (no, you can’t see them), a memoir of sorts, a coffee table book, a play, buggered-if-I’m-counting how many blogs … You’d think I’d know what I was doing, right? Well, therein lies the rub. It’s the was that’s the problem. It’s no good to me knowing what I was doing, it’s what I need to do next that counts, and whether I still can.
You know what they don’t say but they should: you’re only as good as your next book.
It’s the process, innit? Coleridge used to imbibe great gouts of opium, writing Xanadu in a visionary haze before a next-door neighbour popped round to borrow a cup of sugar. After they’d chatted about the weather a bit the vision was gone, never to return. Proust wrote three massive volumes of prose just because someone gave him a biscuit with his tea. Shaw wrote 1000 words per day, no more, no less, in a shed that rotated in order to keep the sun (or was that Wilde?), Hemingway wrote standing up, no mean feat considering his intake of alcohol, while Dahl wrote in his shed wrapped in a blanket, in a rocking chair with a tray on his lap – a sort of analogue laptop.
Legions of creative writing courses repeat the mantra that you must write every day, get into a routine. Fuck that say I: you write the best however best you write. I know within minutes if what I’m writing is crap (yes, I know, sometimes I keep on anyway), or whether it’s worth persevering with.
For me, writing has four stages: inspiration, meditation, inscription, manipulation.
At any point in this process I am prone to desperation.
And desperate times call for desperate measures.
Could you make mine a double, please?