At the moment, a part of me thinks it would be best to give up writing (blogs, poetry, novels, everything), and purge my entire social media presence, and stop trying to push my books (which I hardly do anyway), and just to focus on living. It’s not a whinge. It’s a statement of fact. I find it increasingly hard to find space in my head for these stories (and poems are stories just as much as books are, just as much as these blogs are). Perhaps it’s because I’ve just read All The Pretty Horses, and am awed by its brilliance, thinking it’s something I could never achieve. I had the same feeling when I read All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Duerr, which left a lasting impression on me. Why try to write, my mind says, if you’ll never produce something that great? And just think of all the free space in your head and in your time if you weren’t constantly trying to find new words, new plots, new people, new phrases. Sometimes I feel I’m howling at the moon, and even the moon is not listening, although it’s the thing that’s made me howl in the first place.
The other part of me, of course, knows I won’t stop writing, can’t stop writing. And it’s not that silly naive notion that writers need to write, that they can’t live without writing. I think I very easily could. Once you’ve been paid to write one thing, it becomes a job; there’s pressure all the time to create another piece that will sell, that will find acceptance with agent, publisher, and public. And the fact that it’s 10 years since my debut traditionally-published novel, and that nothing I’ve written since has been accepted by at least the first two of those external agencies (what a posh way to describe those ultimate arbiters of the public taste), weighs heavily and makes me strain for success even more. And do I need that?
BUT I can’t stop writing because there’s nothing to equal those moments when I’m standing outside and some words settle in my head and on my tongue that feel like greatness, when a phrase comes to me that’s so simple and yet so unique that it does, it really does, evoke some universal truth. Or when I’m sitting inside and some misheard phrase on the TV makes the same thing happen, or an image pops up that sparks some immediate explosion of thought, a combustion that forges a precious metal of a thought or phrase. I can’t being myself to lose those moments, can’t bring myself to let those words be lost, even if no-one other than me will read them.
And, of course, writing is free therapy. Like therapy, it presents no answers, but it lets the pressure cooker vent so that the vessel that is my mind doesn’t self-destruct, so that the pressure doesn’t build to such a degree that the whole fabric of me is shredded and flies apart in one final disintegration. It allows me to externalise what’s inside, to just let it all go, and to see the words gives some sort of relief, gives some sort of temporary peace until the pressure starts to build again. And that’s the vicious circle of writing (and please, people, don’t say vicious cycle; it’s plain wrong – check the dictionary, check out the German where its Teufelskreis, literally devil’s circle).
One last thing won’t let me stop writing, I think. Sheer bloody-mindedness. It’s just like cricket still is and how my love life was. I can fail time and time again, and I’ll still try and try again. It’s just like a certain phrasing I use, which always includes the word “yet.” I’m not a best-selling author yet. I’ve not made a century yet. I’m not wealthy yet. I’m not well-known yet. I’ve not written that plotless novel I’ve always wanted to write yet. One tiny word that means all possibilities and opportunities are not excluded. One tiny word that keeps me hoping and writing and living.