I saw an interview with Ian McEwan on the 7.30 Report tonight, in which he said that as a writer it was important to him to stay in good physical condition because writing a novel requires a lot of stamina. It’s like climbing a mountain.
I remarked to mum that even though I well understand what he’s talking about, when a successful novelist like McEwan describes the difficulties of the writing process like that, it makes me think “Oh what’s he going on about? He’s just making a big deal about nothing.” After all, he’s written many best selling books, right? (I haven’t read any of them) He’s internationally renowned and his speaking engagements sell out. How hard can it possibly be for someone like him to write a novel? Don’t the words just pour out of him?
Such a thought is traitorous, to say the least, to writers everywhere. Because it is hard to write anything well. And it is very hard to write a novel. McEwan likens it to a mountain; my own experience is that it is like being trapped under a soaking wet doona. Or maybe, for an extra-complicated novel, a soaking wet futon.
I’m not sure what it’s like for someone who writes novels for a living, who can devote their full-time working week to writing. But for someone who has to squeeze in the writing around a job, and the vagaries of ill-health, that smothered feeling is just inescapable. You have the weight of the book around you, on you, in you. You resent it. You fear it. You flail at it every so often to try and shift the weight but you just get further entangled. You get a flicker of light, the spark of an idea, and just as soon as you try to follow it, the wet mass snuffs it out.
Perhaps the method ought to be to calm down, to take some deep breaths and try to follow some sort of logic, try to find the ending, try to tie up the loose ends and find the way out from underneath. I’m not sure I’ve worked out how to do that yet.
One of the things I am greatly looking forward to on my trip away is having space. The physical space away from the everyday, and the exploring of new spaces, yes. But also the mental space. The creative space. The space that is billowing and airy and allows itself to be filled with just the lightest touch, bringing the tendrils and tender shoots of inspiration that can lead to new life. Even if things don’t go according to plan, even if I don’t have time to write much, I know that this holiday will be a time to clear out the clutter in my head, and time for the wellspring to start filling up again.
And I can’t wait.