I am awake. My husband has left for work. I am out of bed. I have made my first cup of tea. The familiar sounds of water boiling, tea bag bobbing, spoon clinking against cup, sugar dissolving.
The cup makes a thud as I place it on my desk and sit down. I flip my laptop open. A blank document pops up. I expand it to fill the screen.
I have shown up to work.
I take another sip of tea. Settle into my chair. Stare at the screen. The cursor is blinking. I can hear someone sweeping stray leaves outside my window.
An hour passes, and I have opened multiple windows on Chrome. I am deep in Internet hell – a dozen unread, half-read articles are open. I can’t stop. I keep clicking open link in new tab. I am on page 5 of my ‘how to write a novel’ Google search results. My mind is cluttered and in unrelenting motion. I turn back to the blank screen. I type a few words. They sound sloppy, clumsy, childish.
I am a terrible writer. I am not a writer at all. I will never write anything of value. I will never write anything at all.
I can see now how a writer could go mad.
As a writer, you are not just sitting alone with your thoughts. You are sitting alone with your fears. When you spend long spells of time in silence, exploring the contents of your mind, you are bound to find unpleasant things. Doubts. Insecurities. Uncertainties.
And when you feel this way, happiness is only a click away. And there goes your writing day, down the rabbit hole of the infinite world of distraction, also known as the Internet.
You realise an hour has gone by and you have not written anything. You return to the blank document. You write. You can’t write. You click your way to happiness again.
You get the picture.
Nonwriters likely think of writers are people who have ideas, and like to write. A reasonable assumption. Writers have ideas and like to write, so on any given writing day, a writer will spend time plucking out ideas from their minds and writing them down. That sounds easy, peaceful and fun.
Many a slip between the idea and the written word (let alone the printed word.) The problem is that writing involves a lot of time notwriting, which is frustrating because you should be writing. And not only that, but you should be writing fantastic stuff.
Writers dangle in the space between the idea/feeling/image, and the written word. That’s writing. That’s the writing life. And it’s hard. Between fear and distraction, writers who finish anything resembling a book are performing miracles.
As I scribbled the beginnings of this piece in my notebook, a message popped up on my laptop screen:
Your start up disk is almost full.
Tell me about it, laptop. Too many thoughts. Too many books. Too many ideas. Too many tabs. Too many fears.
In her wonderful memoir of the writing life, Still Writing, Dani Shapiro asks us not to be fearless, but to be courageous. “Courage and fearlessness are not the same thing,” she says. “Courage is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”
Doing it anyway.
Shapiro goes on to quote Buddhist writer Sylvia Boorstein, “who talks to herself as if she’s a child she loves very much.”
Sweetheart, she’ll say. Darling. Honey. That’s all right. There, there. Go take a walk. Take a bath. Take a drive. Bake a cake. Nap a little. You’ll try again tomorrow.
I’ll try again tomorrow.
(Hey, at least I got this piece done.)