Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow...

The loneliest occupation in the world, I think, is being a writer. It's all about delayed gratification (a phrase and concept I relish, but the reality's tougher to enjoy). You're a virtual recluse, alone in front of a desk as the autumnal slate gray sky glowers menacingly outside,and the taupe computer screen glows dully inside, numbing the vision. And you write. And write. Tap, tap, the soundtrack to those moments, hours, days of your life. There's no excitement, bar what you put down on the page. There's no social activity. Your words are your friends, and if there are characters, you almost grow into them - they're your only companions. And all this, hoping to get a kick ONE DAY - cradling that book with your name emblazoned on it, something in black and white (or black and red) for posterity.

It's better, I presume, if you've got a deal in hand (where holding that book with your name's an undisputed truth - but the how you're going to fulfil all those expectations, and within what time frame, becomes your bugbear intead... life's never perfect!). If, on the other hand, there's no contract on the table, you just write. You tap. Sometimes disconsolately. The words and images regurgitated out with hard, long retches. Sometimes you tap in the equivalent of furious scribble, like a bitch on heat, desperate to reach satisfaction and an eventual birth. For your sake, and for the sake of hope. Tapping out your dreams. And all the time suspecting that those hours of solitude (and days, and late evenings, and time stolen from family, and curt brush-offs to children's insistent queries - and associated guilt, the bindweed of who works from home); and the multitude of stifled yawns, of stiff backs, of tea breaks and cereal bowls balanced by the keyboard - may, quite possibly, may, come to nothing. A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury...signifying nothing. Quote, unquote. Or perhaps, it's the detail that counts. All words pre-exist, most plots are re-hashes, most advice has been given before. You're almost like a window cleaner at times, trying to polish the surface of language to convince your audience they're seeing the view for the first time.

It's even worse if you are writing not a novel (that one's sitting dusty in the drawer waiting to be remembered, revamped, resuscitated, and have the breath of faith blown into it...), but a non-fiction work dealing with, how to put it?, how to eliminate compulsive behaviour through the power of the mind (yes, I'm also training to be an NLP practitioner - check it out). It means you can't even go for a slice of chocolate bar at the kitchen counter out of pure boredom. Because that's called 'displacment activity' - otherwise known as procrastinating (do you write - yawn?! or eat? or lie down and sleep?!) And if you're a writer, and you procrastinate, so will your career. (But I still desire that cocoa kick to offset the solitude, the backache and the nagging voices telling me I'll never make it).


  1. Oh, Helen, Helen, Helen! I know exactly how you feel. The loneliness, the lack of feedback, the feeling that you're not getting anywhere. The guilt of knowing you should probably be doing something else. But you are writing - that's something to be congratulated! My life is one great big displacement activity. Got the novel in the botton of the wardrobe that will never see the light of day! Got the freelance writing career that stalled after the kids (or are they just my excuse?) The only thing I can claim is my blog. Keep at it. Something tells you it's worth doing. X

  2. Manicmum - How about meeting for a coffee one day (except I don't drink coffee. I'll do earl grey with a squeeze of lime instead - smile!). No, I mean it. You're in London, I'm in London. You understand me. I understand you. I promise I'm not an axe murderer! Have you got an email address you can safely give out?! (yes, seriously) Helen x

  3. "you can't even go for a slice of chocolate bar at the kitchen counter out of pure boredom"

    I completely resonated with that statement, as this has been an active goal of mine for the last week. I've been learning to sit with discomfort. I try to actually feel the 'pain' of the boredom rather than find a stimulus to get rid of it. It's okay to be a little uncomfortable. Amazingly, that feeling turns into motivation.

  4. err, I don't think I want to be a writer now...

  5. Manicmum - I did get the 'mail address and apart from it suspiciously sounding like one of those nasty viral 'worms' that rage around destroying Yummy Mummy's "apple"s, it didn't work! (no I'm not a YM - despite being Yummy and a Mummy!!!) Please do re-send. I'll do clapham and I have no objection to 3 year-olds (one of mine's one too!). Haven't you got a more innocent sounding hotmail or summat?

    Jenny - I've just had my two squares of lindt dark (before breakfast). That does it for the day. I'm doing teas when the boredom strikes! -there's even one by 'Yogi' teas (health shop) which I swear tastes of chocolate - called Cacoa I think as you'd imagine, but clear: so you can SEE there aren't hidden calories (!!!)

    MH - you are my alter-ego. While I delve into the inner depths of despair (and have 13 followers) you make everyone laugh and have about 130 (or was it 310?!).Hmmm - lessons on marketing there?!!! But, dear MH, did you realise that writing a blog IS writing, not just learning to touch type?! You're already snared, woman.

  6. We talk about men going into their caves, or going off on adventures, historically, but women must cast off their outer layers and go beyond reach, also. Underneath the labels, 'Mum' and 'Wife' and the props and costumes that help us through our daily lives, the truth lies. In our writing, we have the lantern; be brave and hold up the light in the darkness, illuminate the corners and then come back to report to the world.
    As we learn to live with ourselves, in whatever ugly beautiful state we are in, so the world heals.
    See? How we gather to welcome you back?

  7. Sarah: you are an angel in disguise to save my creative spirit from perdition! (and my tum from too many desperate chocs). THANKYOU. x

  8. Hey, I've gots some blog traffic, I'm starting to feel the love, myself!