Well, I’m back now from the various travels associated with publishing a new book. It all went well. I met some wonderful people, including Dame Margaret Drabble (who is delightful), “Handsome” Colum McCann, Kevin Bass, Seth and his wife Tania, Charlotte Grey and on and on . . . lots of terrific readers. Wonderful festival organizers.
The lights have dimmed, the crowds (snort) departed, the activity stilled. I return to ordinary time, made even stiller than usual because I’ve just sent off the draft of my upcoming novel to my editors and await their feedback. I’ve probably got a few weeks before it comes back to me. So . . . tap, tap, tap . . . what to do?
When I am not writing I can be irritable and unsettled. It’s as though I’m a marionette and one of the strings attached to the crossbar has been cut, or the length’s been fiddled with and I’m all jerky and out of alignment. True, there is the lure of a MAMMOTH pile of unread books, and spending hours diving into that will be a joy. There are also the responsibilities associated with running a monthly writing workshop. There is The Rescuepoo to walk and feed and play with. There are even some friends to see — whom I’ve been neglecting lately. But still, there is a niggling little tug. Write. Write. A short story or two? Yes, possibly. I’d like to get back to that. Writing short stories, for me, uses a different part of the brain than that used for novels. I should exercise it a little.
But the truth is, I feel a bit lost when I’m not working on a big writing project.
I met a young woman recently, a well-published poet, who said she isn’t writing. When I asked why, she said the idea of writing fills her will disgust. She has nothing to say and, she said, even if she did, she doesn’t want to say it. She feels no impulse to write. In fact, she feels an aversion. She doesn’t know if she’ll write again.
I said I quite envied her. Although I love my writing life, there are times when the need to write feels exhausting and I would like to simply be, without the nagging feeling I’m letting my side down, if you know what I mean. The image I use for my compulsion to write is that of a huge mastiff dog. The dog wants to be walked. NOW. It’s sleeting and icy and pitch black out. Really filthy weather. The fire is warm. The cup of tea is at hand. The book I’m reading is fantastic. But there stands the dog, whining, leash in mouth, giving me that look. You know the one: If you don’t walk me now, I’m going to eat the couch and pee on your chair. I try to ignore the dog. More whining. A low growl. Enormous paw on my knee. Not now, dog. I want to just sit and enjoy the fire and the book and the tea. The dog eyes the couch. Drools a little. And so on. In the end, it’s easier to just walk the damn dog.
And so it is with writing. Try as I might to ignore the urge, I can’t settle until I’ve done my words for the day. Only then does the dog lie down and my feet and let us both relax.
But my young poet friend said she envied me. She would like to feel compelled to write. She would like to know it is what she’s meant to do. That would give her life form and meaning.
Ah, yes. There is that. And so, like all writers — emerging and seasoned, young and old, hacks and geniuses and everyone in between — in the end we write. And, after posting this, I’ll only have approximately four hundred more words to go for the day!
Keep writing. You’re not alone.