Thank you for your letter. I’m thinking about this a lot at the moment because I’m working again. Writing is hard work, of course. I’ve never done any job harder. I’m not at peace when I’m writing. I wrestle with plot. I can’t sleep. I’m impatient. Everything I do is about the words, the story, the characters. But while I’m writing, while the actual process of writing is happening, letter, word, sentence, a space opens in me, and with that space comes calm.
But writing doesn’t pay the rent for me, at least, it doesn’t pay the rent all the time. It certainly doesn’t buy a house, pay the bills, repair the car, feed the dog and the cat. You know how it is. The trade-offs we make. After ten years of writing a pay cheque seems like alchemy. I work a number of hours. I’m paid for the hours I work.
The alchemy works for a while.
But it’s not about money for me. Or, it is periodically, when I’m broke, but that doesn’t last long. Because when I’m not writing, that open space in me shrinks. I feel barely big enough inside to fit a heart. I get annoyed at small things, at bad weather, at sky. It’s a hunger. For time and space. For quiet. You must know it, a feeling of desperation?
And so, I carve off minutes, days. Steal time to write. Get up at three because that means there’s an extra day between Thursday and Friday, an extra day where I can write without interruption. But then in that time I’ve stolen, every word sounds terrible. They fall on the page without rhythm.
The only answer I have is the one I’ve worked out for myself. I must get to know words again, fall back in love. Search out their hooks and curves. Hinterland, brittle, fire and dusk. Marble, lick, lime and sex. Taste, kiss, imagine. I think about the bruised lines of horizon. The peaceful bliss of tuck. About cradle’s gentle heartbeat.
And there is no one in this space but me, when I am getting to know words again. No voice to tell me I’m doing it wrong. I’m sure I am, but that isn’t the point. I’m writing. That is the point. It’s the best time, when nothing is at stake. Stolen half hours, turning the moon, searching the surface for unnoticed things.
I read, too, of course. I read and wonder how the writer made me feel. I read and break apart a sentence. Put it back together as it was originally, or mix up the order. Read and feel the weight and texture of a description. What gestures? What movements?
On breaks from writing, I forget to be in the world. I don’t hear the rain, I don’t notice clouds, or the colours of stones. I find my way back to the details – of people, conversations, art, skies, fights. I look for the smallest things I can see.
There’s no easy way to get back to your writing self. But that writing self is you, so you must try. Be kind to yourself when the words aren’t falling. It’s as though all the things we see and hear and think rise up when we sleep, hanging inside us like a grim sky. It will break, that sky. One day you will see that the words are falling. And you will spend days, lost, in that storm.