I’m very much looking forward to this working with Writing Events Bath on February 17th. It’s easy to get blown off course when you’re in the middle or near the end of a long writing project. This workshop helps writers connect with and articulate their own literary aesthetic; and remember what they love about reading and writing. Participants will take away a series of self-generated expressions of their taste, choice and passion in and for prose fiction.
Where does the writing go, when it leaves us? It does leave us, that’s for certain. Some days, weeks, months, years even, we can’t write a word. We sit and wish for it, and nothing happens; and if we force it, dreadful things drip out of the printer…things we wouldn’t let a dog see, let alone our agents or editors or writing friends.
Perhaps there’s only so much writing that can be done at once on the planet, and we have to share it around. Or maybe we need those fallow times, those yearning years, in order to do the work when it comes back to us.
It does come back.
I’m writing this at Easter, on Good Friday, that great dark Christian feast of the slain man-god. Today is all about being reviled and rejected. Today is about being found wanting, and no-one coming to help you, and being spindled and thrown away.
But it’s also about faith.
I have no idea why we have to go through the dark days of want and worry. But I do know one thing…the writing will come back. Believe in it and in yourself; and watch, and wait.
It’s nearly midnight and I really should be asleep. There’s no guarantee the new puppy will sleep through the night and I have (of course) lots to do tomorrow. But I wanted to share something with you before I close my eyes.
I just finished watching Moneyball, a very good baseball film. We watch lots of baseball films in our house…and we have quite a little baseball library, too.
I love baseball. There’s something about the moment where one person is under the falling ball/batting with the bases loaded/pitching for the last out. If he catches it/gets a hit/strikes out the batter, he’s a hero. If not, he’s a total schmuck. It reminds me an awful lot of the writing life. Sooner or later it comes down to that…you and the great game. Will you score, or will you strike out?
I was too terrible at baseball to play softball in the long American summer breaks, but I had to play in school. Our PE teacher soon learned to frisk my glove for books. He was always urging us to run out every ball. I was placed far in the outfield, where my total absence of athleticism could do the least damage, but even so, a hit ball sometimes trickled my way. ‘Run for it!’ he’d scream.
Honestly. The other fielders were way faster than I was and could actually throw the ball once they’d caught it. Running after a ball I knew I couldn’t throw and taking it away from worthier teamates seemed stupid .
‘Why didn’t you run out the ball?’ the red-faced coach would demand.
‘I didn’t think I could catch it.’
‘Try! Run out every ball, even if you don’t think you’ll win it. One time you will, and it will all be worth it.’ I can see the poor man now, labouring to explain the concept. In vain, I’m afraid. I never, to my knowledge, ran out a ball.
That said, have a look at this Martha Graham quotation.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly.
If that’s not running out every ball, I don’t know what is. I might not have listened to my poor PE teacher on the baseball field, but I certainly have taken his wisdom on board in my creative work.
Get in the habit of keeping the channel open and doing your work the best you can. Run out every ball, even the ones you don’t think you can catch. One day, you’ll surprise yourself and feel it hitting the palm of your glove.
There are some things about being a writer I really love. First of all, and as you know, I love not having to get dressed in order to do it. I love BEING a writer; I went onto campus for a quick meeting and was running late and couldn’t find my sandals, so I went barefoot. Nobody blinked an eye; writers are allowed eccentricities. And, perhaps best of all, you can write anywhere. Including, on a day like this; the garden, which is where this week’s photo is set.
With me, but stubbornly refusing to be in shot, is my writing companion, Dotty the cat.
Big changes are about to happen to Dotty, though she doesn’t know it yet. Tonight, the new puppy comes home. A labrador.
Well, she’s been having territorial problems and our garden and house have been invaded so often that she’s had to go on antidepressants, to stop her from grooming off all her fur. The dog will keep her company while we’re gone and also will protect her from invaders. But I don’t think she’ll realise that when the puppy arrives this evening.
It’s hard to recognise when we need to change. Yesterday I talked to three writers who didn’t really want to change; either what they were writing, or how they were writing it, or how they thought about it. And it’s true that you can only change things so much before you lose the reason you wanted to write something in the first place; but I don’t think that’s the only reason we resist changing our writing.
I think we fear the death of something we’ve created – even if it’s only a phrase we love that everyone else thinks we should cut. There’s a little death in every change; but there’s a little death in every growth, too. The seeds I plant this week will have to die in order to make a plant; if they remain seeds, they’ll die anyway, from rot. The writer who wrote The Saint Who Loved Me is no longer with us – the me I was ten years ago, before I had my daughter, is gone. But that writer could never have written Drawing Together.
Often the changes we resist are the changes we know we need to make. Having a friend or an agent or editor tell us that we need to change something doesn’t feel like news, it feels like a finger pressing on a bruise. We know…we know all too well that it needs changing. We know so much it hurts.
Today, I’m asking you to push yourself a little harder to try and change something you know needs it badly. After all, another wonderful thing about writing is that you can always change it back.