I get the impression that even though my family and friends know that I’m a writer, they don’t really have any idea what I do. The same goes for my readers. I’d imagine some of you think I’m cooped up all day “in a room of my own” with a pot of tea, a pen and a pad of paper; others that I just frequent cafes, sipping coffee and pondering my existence and perhaps a small minority of you just think that I’m a wanker who sits around all day wanking my proverbial writing muscle (whatever that is).
The reality of it is, my life is nowhere near as romantic, tranquil or indulgent as you may think. For me at least, writing is a very isolating, solipsistic endeavour that demands my attention at the most inconvenient of times and places with no regard for my social wellbeing – rather like a child I imagine. I actually expressed to my husband the other day that, I feel, writing a novel is very much like giving birth, just with a longer gestational period (unless you’re like Georges Simenon who writes his books over a period of only 11 days).
About a week ago I went to bed, exhausted, only to be forced awake and sent on a wild goose chase around my flat for a pen and scrap of paper (keep a pad and pen next to your bed, I hear you say but, alas, this doesn’t seem to work for me – I need to physically get out of bed for some reason!). What came to me in my semi-conscious, slumbersome state was this:
That night she danced to the sound of freedom; to the unfamiliar melody of existence – and it felt good. So good that as she shaped and stretched her arms above her head, in time to the rhythm of choice, she wept.
At the time I didn’t think anything of what I had written, I just knew that I had to get it down. A few days later though, possessed by my character, I realised that what I had written was the end of a pivotal chapter of my novel. That’s very much how writing works for me. Most of the time I’ll have an idea or a character in the back of my mind and every now and then sentences or paragraphs will come to me that I ‘jot down’ only to realise, sometimes months later, that they belong to this character or that part of my story. I can’t seem to ‘will’ my writing to happen. I’m not one of those writers. I do, however, agree with Mia Freedman when she says:
A large part of being a writer is just writing. Obvious but true. Less angsting, more doing. You can edit bad words, but you can’t edit no words… don’t be precious about it, just pull your finger our. Enough with the waiting and analysing, or deadlines will pass you by. And so will life.
In last weekend’s Saturday Age, twice Miles Franklin Literary Award winner, Alex Miller, spoke of his writing process and of Autumn – a character in his latest book called Autumn Laing. As well as speaking about how Autumn “inhabited” him, he also spoke of the great fear that he had of losing her, stating that, “by the time I reached my fourth chapter I wondered whether she would still be there”. You have no idea how much it heartened me to read this. I feel exactly the same way. Every time I go to pick up my pen or sit in front of my computer I wonder, “was that voice that I channelled last week still going to be there or was it just a fluke that I was able to do that?” More often than not, the voice is still there and, if I’m having a bad day, it may not be there for as long – that’s all.
image by oso
As alienating a profession as writing is, it’s also strangely comforting for, as soon as the character rouses for the day in your mind, you are no longer alone. Again, it’s just a matter of trust. Miller speaks of this also:
… I go into the study and I sit down that morning and I think, ‘What is there to say?’ And literally, [my character] says, ‘Never mind about that, leave it to me’. And off she goes. It just feels great.
So, what do I do every day? Well, no two days are the same but, generally, I get up, shower, have a bowl of porridge and read my blogs (Sarah Wilson, Kora Organics, Mamma Mia). I then walk to my local (Penny Farthing), set up my laptop and write over a pot or two of chai. And I could be writing anything; articles, blog posts or I might even be working on my novel. I then, generally, go home, do some housey things and then spend the rest of the afternoon reading. I know it all sounds very leisurely doesn’t it? In reality, it’s not because – oh, I forgot to mention – while doing all that I have one (or several) voices in my head fighting for a way out and onto a page.
Still have questions? Ask away! Care to share some of your writing experiences? Share away!
Happy asking, enquiring and learning about others and what they do xx