Tuesday, February 9, 2010
My day as a tortured artist
When you read about notable authors discussing how they feel about writing, the responses can tend towards the extreme. I suppose writing is something that people have passionate relationships with - it’s a demanding pursuit, it doesn’t allow for casual attitudes. You seldom hear a writer say that writing is ‘just a job’ or that they only write because they've got nothing better to do with their spare time. Writing may be compulsive and addictive but it’s not an easy, relaxing way to unwind after a hectic day. For a long time, I did suspect that I was more in the ‘writing is fun’ camp than the ‘woe, I’m such a tortured artist suffering for my work’ one. I’m inclined to think I probably wouldn’t bother to write if every day if felt like I was beating my head against my keyboard until it started bleeding. Then today happened. Today has been difficult. Not in a series of earth-shatteringly horrific disasters, just in an I’m tired, grumpy and I desperately want to collapse in bed and sleep for the next ten months kind of way. Today when the tremendously overdue break from managing the rampaging toddler (and I use the term ‘managing’ loosely here to describe my feeble, sleep-deprived efforts) in the form of a nap, I found myself really not wanting to write. Or rather I should say edit. I don’t normally think of myself as a procrastinator (well, not for creative things, I’m very good at putting off chores I don’t want to do) but suddenly everything that wasn’t writing/editing seemed exceedingly appealing. I could bake cookies (or better yet, eat cookies), read, watch TV, sleep (ah, sleep, such a wonderfully tempting prospect), muddle around on the internet. Heck, even scrubbing the shower seemed a comparatively appealing notion. The problem was that if I indulged any one of these options, my writing time for today would be lost. I could pretend that I would some how find another hour or two in the evening to squeeze in writing or I’d work really hard tomorrow to make up but truthfully neither of these would be likely with my current exhaustion levels. So I made myself a strong coffee and got on with it. I edited a chapter. I wish I could say it was fun and that as soon as I started it was easy or, at least, productive. The truth is that it wasn’t. Every minute felt like a hard slog. I doubted every change or deletion I made. I think I even wasted about five minutes angsting over one word, taking it out and then changing my mind and reinserting it about twenty times. I may well go back and look at today’s work tomorrow and then have to redo a lot of it but maybe not. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be in a better frame of mind and realise that in spite of how I feel about it now, I actually did a good job. I wish I could say that I fought the good fight over my lack of motivation and emerged feeling satisfied and victorious but I can’t. I just don’t feel that triumphant about it. I feel like I've had a tough day at work and I want to have a whinge and a grumble about my tyrannical, unreasonable boss - writing. I guess what I’m coming to realise is that I, like many other writers I suspect, am capable of both extremes. There are days when it feels tremendously difficult to write, or, more accurately, to motivate yourself to go and turn the computer on and actually start writing. Some days I really wish that my lifelong dream wasn’t to be a writer but to train goldfish or grow prize-winning geraniums or something. Surely, anything would be easier than this terribly onerous, frustrating task of trying to shape stories out of troublesome words. However, most days, thankfully, writing is a lot of fun. I enjoy it so much that I wish I could somehow find more time in the day cram in more blissful hours in front of the keyboard. Fortunately, the ratio is highly skewed towards the majority of writing time being fun but still there are difficult aspects. There are sunny Saturday mornings when the rest of the world seems to be relaxing and I have a story demanding my attention, much like an unpleasant pile of work I'm meant to get done over the weekend. There are times when my inner critic makes bullying remarks about my writing and I start to doubt what I'm doing. Maybe all hobbies, passions and pursuits are fraught with difficulties. Maybe goldfish can induce all sorts of anxieties in their trainers through temperamental behaviour and competitive geranium growing may have numerous dangerous and hurdles I have not yet considered. Maybe it’s not the harder aspects of writing themselves that give us trouble – it’s that we care so much about our writing and value the pleasure it can give us so highly that the few problems we encounter seem disproportionately immense. Writing a novel would be a lot easier if you didn’t feel compelled to make as great as you possibly could. Ending a story in precisely the best way possible wouldn’t be something we worried about so much if we didn’t feel that the story demanded to be perfect. It is the passion and love we have for writing that makes the moments when it doesn’t come easily seem so inordinately hard. In an odd way, how difficult the difficulties seem to be could be a reflection of how wonderful and joyous writing is the rest of the time. A writer’s struggles may be hair-tearingly frustrating but they are also a celebration of how much they treasure and enjoy their need to write. I suppose I shouldn’t worry about having bad days where it all seems immensely difficult; the real danger for any writer (or indeed, goldfish trainer) would be becoming apathetic.