Thursday, 7 July 2011

'The fascination of what's difficult...'

The Germans have a word for it: sitzpinkler.

It refers to a man who sits down to urinate, and it's meant as an insult.

But whoever coined it can't have had the pleasure of a loo-side library, which makes every trip to the bog an invitation to take off the weight for a few minutes and dive between the covers.

And it was on one of these visits a few days ago that I came across these lines from Yeats, which sum up perfectly what has become a difficult relationship between creative writing and me:

The fascination of what's difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart

So how did we get to this state?

More than anything else, it seemed a lot of individual threads of opportunity seemed coincidentally to come to an end around the same time, as various doors that had been just the teeniest-tiniest bit ajar slammed shut.

And after years of intense focus on writing and trying to create an opening, it suddenly dawned on me to find out how it might feel to stop banging my head against the thick wooden door for a while.

And guess what? It felt very nice. Suddenly I had time to read all the books I'd neglected since starting my MA in 2006. I could relax a little in the morning before going to the day job. I even learned how to play the ukulele (badly).

However, while I was congratulating myself on having shaken the monkey from my back, I started to feel a very icy shadow fall across me.

I had been trying to kid myself, but 'giving up' writing meant that I suddenly had an emptiness inside me: a profound absence that I can only compare to grief, as overwrought and ridiculous as that may sound.

I found myself in a horrible limbo: my efforts to 'break in' as a writer had been exhausting and disappointing, but giving up entirely had plunged me even deeper into despair.

So, realising that I was probably going to have to carry that monkey for life, I acquiesced and dug out all my notebooks and titles to see which projects I should think about moving forward with.

One step forward, two steps back: my writing audit came up with about 25 projects, from polishes of finished screenplays to skeletal outlines for novels, and from outlines for radio plays to intriguing little notes (‘school trip to the hand-grenade factory’)

It didn’t help that I suddenly wasn’t 100% sure any more of the kind of writer I even was.

The bulk of my creative energy over the past few years had gone towards  screenwriting, with my MA at the heart of it.

But my freelance gigs shifted at the start of the year and I found myself writing a lot more prose – and really enjoying it. That coincided with my learning to love reading fiction again, and it seemed that the ideas in my vault that excited my imagination the most were for long(ish)-form prose fiction.

I’ve never really suffered from writer’s block, as we commonly understand it, but suddenly I was a victim of writer’s flood: blessed and cursed with too many story ideas to develop.

I couldn’t decide in which direction to go, and consequently ended up turning round and round on the spot, going nowhere.

And that’s kind of where I am at the moment.

I’ve tried to resurrect this blog to get the processes going again, and I hope it doesn’t become too much of a distraction.

In the meantime, I’m going to carry on sitting on the loo and wondering what to do next.

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