Thursday, January 18, 2007

Turning Up at the Page

I live near a forest, close to several high flood-risk areas and today has been wild. There have been fallen trees on roads round about. I had essential errands. Him Outdoors went to London for an interview and had to be collected from a far-flung station because of trees on the tracks between here and Victoria. Then I went to Brighton for a workshop meeting with other writers.

With M.E. you live your life (if you’re lucky) with a small amount of strength that you spend cautiously or you end up in the red. When this happens you pay back with interest. Payback time is not the kind of rest that other people have. It is painful, not restful, and the interest rate can be put up with no warning. But sometimes, or often, you overspend because there is some bit of life to be lived and you want to, even more than you fear the possible consequences. So today I went to Brighton instead of making my excuses and lying down, because that’s my work, even though it earns me not a penny, unless I count a £100 poetry prize (I’m still dining out on), the very occasional poetry reading where I am grateful to get whatever they can spare from takings at the door and £66 for a couple of stories a few years back.

Some of the others at the workshop meeting would say the same. One works as a part- time librarian and teacher and has to fit her “real work” into the gaps. Most writers know about this, and the pressure they feel to do the work and turn up at the page, whatever else is happening in their lives. Without the pressure, they wouldn’t do it. It’s what I’m for and where I am most concentratedly alive – but still it can be a struggle to get to That Place.

Apart from practical problems to do with time and strength, there is a strange resistance to be overcome, especially when beginning a new piece of work. I used to just write short prose fiction. When I was immersed in a story I was carried by it and couldn’t wait to get back to doing it, whatever else was happening. The way to keep the momentum going once it was finished was to begin another one straight away. When I began to write poetry people said that it must be easier - basically because poems tend to be shorter than stories, but I don’t find it so. It’s harder because I have to re-boot every time I begin a new one and sometimes I feel that after a great deal of sweat and slog I haven’t got much to show for it - at the crudest level, I mean: words on paper (in the “bums on seats” way of thinking).

For now, I’m doing that other thing: re-drafting old work. Quite nice when you dig up a story or poem that, with the clear eye of distance, seems to have something, not so nice when you come across that piece that was so wonderful it almost wrote itself and now you look again it’s a bit, well, crap. But the sine qua non is the business of “turning up at the page” – the virgin page, (how I like to get that word in), that is the place of the yet-to-be written. I resist. We all do. It’s why there are books and books about how to push through it.

It’s why I’m turning up here, dear reader, writing about writing again.


Liz said...

I completely agree with you about having to re-boot for each poem. I've got the beginning of a story in my head at the moment but between library work and teaching I don't seem to have time to put it down! But it does help me drift off to sleep, sifting words in my head for what will one day come out onto the page, then be sliced and diced at the group and served up a whole new thing. bueno. I love your blog.

Reading the Signs said...

aha, me old trooper, gather them up first thing, straight out of sleep. Then look at them later and wonder who has been writing in your notebook. Gracias.

Erin O'Brien said...

Isn't it stunning how your attitude toward your work changes over time?

I suppose it's one solid way to mark the changes in yourself.

Reading the Signs said...

Erin, I feel sometimes as though I am meeting someone else when I go back to a piece of writing, and this can happen in a relatively short space of time - say a month, during which I have not looked at it.

That's so pants said...

I've come to terms with being the worst kind of weirdo but when I reread old pieces of work, I invariably think they're brilliant and can't understand why they've been repeatedly rejected. I think I'm one of those X-Factor contestants who think they look like Britney Spears but actually resemble a monkey with bad acne and a lazy eye.g

Reading the Signs said...

tsp, well being a writer is a bit weird altogether. But I think it's worth considering the idea that your work is actually as brilliant as you think it is.