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On writing: when you love it and when it just won’t work


Space for the Butterflies - on writing

I was once so pole-axed by grief that I couldn’t write. I opened my mind to find the words, to sort o it in my head what had happened to the ruins of my world and they would not come. Not the words I wanted anyway, the ones that would make sense of what had happened, that would find a silver lining to the suffocating cloud that blanketed over me, that would let me find myself and set me free.  All that was there was  a twisted bitter ghost, skulking in the corners, waiting for the merest whisper of a crack in my defence to pour out a torrent of vitriol; to let all that hurt and anger and sadness come hurtling through, and I wasn’t going to let it.

Angst laden tortured prose will never be my genre.

When I am unhappy, or angry, or just utterly grumpy and fed up, the words scuttle away from me, and chasing them down is like one of those dreams where you are straining with every fibre of your being to run, or even just to move, and yet you stay put.  I hate those dreams, although the last one I had when I started to dream that I’d left me work bag in an office and I was going to need to run to get back to where I’d left it and then try to catch up and still be on time for a meeting and I was starting to get cross with my dream self for having left it in the first place when my subconscious kicked in and dream invented a person who’d already brought it to me. I was wildly impressed with myself for that one.

But I digress.  The truth is that I write in the happy moments, of which I am pleased to say, there are many.

That’s not to say that it’s never hard work, I think I’m chirpiest in the morning so I’m usually tapping away on the train on the way into work and by trialand error that seems to be my best time of day to be that sort of creative, but there are definitely times when it takes a while to get my brain up and running too. But then there are the times when it all clicks, and the work document or the blog post or the whatever it is I’m trying to say just seems to dance straight out of my mind and onto the page.

Years ago H and I ran a marathon, and although most of the training was marked for me by dark, cold, wet, hurt and eventually, missing toenails, there was one run that stood out for me. I’d arrived back from visiting my parents just in time for the club run but on that chilly winter’s night there were only the three of us so we set off together down our usual route.  By that point I was used to it being hard, used to having to work at my technique and manage my breathing and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Except that evening it wasn’t so hard; my feet moved easily, I could chat a little to the people I was running with, and for that one run I got why people could really get into it as a sport.

When I think of a time when I really loved writing perhaps the first thing that comes to mind are those rare but wonderful moments when it’s like that; when an idea arrived fully formed and all you have to do is write it down. But that first thought was quickly followed by a second; I love writing when what I’ve written resonates with someone.  When I write a blog post and someone replies to say “yes, this it what I’ve been trying to make into sense”.  And the first and the second don’t necessarily run together.

All too often good is equated to easy, and yet any parent will tell you that while your children may be the centre of your world, it doesn’t make it any easier to be calm and consistent when it’s got to the witching hour and all you’ve heard for the last hour is one or more child grizzling (not that that ever happens to my super special snowflake babies of course!!).  The same is true for a marriage, less the grizzling (hopefully).

And much as I’d hate to admit it, because who among us wouldn’t like life to be nice and easy and straightforward, I think that if I’m truly honest with myself, the time when I really love writing is when I’ve worked for it, and the hard work has paid off.

Last summer I had a rare afternoon pottering around London with Pip and I picked up a Writing Map, a little interactive map of writing prompts and questions.  I love it, and I’ve been carrying it around ever since, thinking, I’ll start that when I get a minute.  Of course the minute never comes so I thought I’d write some of them here and see where they take me.  I knew when I can’t write before I started, but the times when I truly love writing surprised me, I thought it would be the first until I got started.  And now I’m curious about you; when do you find yourself truly loving writing, and when do the words dry up?