Friday, 9 January 2015

Into the Darkness

I always thought that when I reached the 70,000 word mark on my book that I would know what to do, that the words would fly straight from my brain through my fingers and onto the keys. I assumed that the comfort and reassurance of having that much work behind me would only act as a positive - a reinforcement that I can do this. That I can write and, more importantly, finish a novel. But, as regularly happens when it comes to writing, I was proved wrong.

I reached this approximate wordcount of 70K over the Christmas break and instead of feeling relieved, encouraged and excited, I felt anxious, overwhelmed and uncertain. As I sat there at my desk, with a cup of tea to my left and a scented candle to my right, I stared at the MS word cursor as it blinked menacingly at me.

"Go on Sinead, I dare ya, I dare ya to write another word. Just one. No? Not even one? Oh, that's right, you can't, can you?"

The wordcount had increased gradually, but how was I to take reassurance from the fact that my manuscript was all over the place? And even worse, the realisation that only person who could possible correct it is me. As I realised just how lost I was amidst a sea of clunky words, chapters that were the wrong way around and irrelevant dialogue, I could feel the panic rising within me. So I did what I do best. I walked away.

The truth is, I was scared. Scared of many things. I was scared that my novel was too big a challenge, the storyline too implausible and the characters too flat. I was scared that much of my large wordcount needed to be edited and, worst of all, deleted. And I think I was scared at the enormity of this task. I am regularly reminded of how hard it is to write a novel, but sometimes it just hits me with the strength to knock the breath out of me. 

I'm afraid of many things: deep water, spiders hiding in my bedsheets, long-haul fligths and open toed shoes to name a few. But the experience of staring at my manuscript, feeling my control over it increasingly ebb further away was a different kind of panic than the type that I have experienced when I almost drowned in the sea off Crete or when our flight to Poland suddenly dropped in mid-air for several seconds. It was a more reflective, dare I say, existential sense of fear: Am I going to have to stop writing this? Have I made a terrible mistake? Have the last two years been a waste?

I may have stopped writing but my mind hadn't stopped working. If there's one thing I do well, it's thinking. Analysing. Reflecting. So I began to think about the art of writing and the power of imagination. And the act of creating.

At the opening night of Listowel Writers Week last year, Colm ToibĂ­n spoke about the art of creating something from nothing. That's what writing is - an idea, no matter what shape or form it takes, ultimately emerges from a place where it hadn't been before. Julia Cameron said that creativity - like human life itself - begins in darkness. 

The reality is that creation has to come from a place of nothing before it can become something. 

What adds weight to that is the fact that very little of what is around us is new: the Bible says that "there is nothing new under the sun".  So creation has to come from an unfamiliar place. From the darkness. 

Every writer, indeed every artist, poet, sculptor has to create something from nothing. They fill a space that was empty before. They persevere through the darkness when it is usually easier to give up, accept defeat and turn back towards the light.

I think I expected my path to grow brighter as I progressed along my journey. I didn't expect to need a torch when I got to the halfway point. I visualised a large road with street lamps on either side, burning brightly as I reached the finish line. But in reality, there was nothing. Just a dark road with no end in sight and no light behind to guide me either.

But that's the challenge. Sometimes you have to trust your footing, feel around and embrace the blackness. And we all know that if you sit it out long enough (without turning the lights on), our eyes eventually adjust to the darkness. And I think that can be enough to take the next step forward. It helped me get to 71K so that's enough evidence for me.

1 comment:

  1. Very honest and reflective as usual, but more insightful too about the whole creative process. We mortals wouldn't have ever thought about all that you have to juggle mentally. There will be dark days but it seems you know how to keep them brief and to get yourself going again. Notably well written, by the way, great instalment.