Why Bother?

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It’s been a very long week and it’s only Thursday. Despite the fact that things have calmed down a little in terms of readings and interviews, I can’t remember ever being this tired before. Getting out of bed in the morning is a gargantuan effort, almost as taxing as trying to get to sleep at night. The patented Ulster Hall self-diagnosis procedure, (typing your symptoms into Google and hoping for the best), seemed to suggest that I had either anaemia or syphilis, (I know which one I was rooting for), but a wee trip to the doctor confirmed it was only low blood pressure and general exhaustion. Though it was good to discover I didn’t have a slow descent into madness ahead of me, it’s fair to say I’m still not feeling terribly motivated. My general inclination this week is towards box sets, the sofa and meals which require no chopping, stirring or other strenuous effort.

This was also the week in which it finally descended upon me, (despite years of reading articles and being repetitively reminded by other writers), that I’m never going to make enough money from writing to support myself. I think most of us read The Guardian article which was doing the rounds this week- the one where Will Self burst the bubble for all those who entertain JK Rowling-esque career ambitions- with a kind of weary, pre-existing horror suddenly given the numbers and statistics to take root. The best we can hope for is about £3,000 a year income from book sales, barely enough to keep me in QFT tickets and Yumm Bowls. The worst, might even be negative income, by the time you add up all those journeys to read in provincial libraries and Bob Dylan books bought for “research purposes.” I shall, I’m once again reminded, not be giving up the day job any time soon.

So, why bother writing? The artist in me, wants to argue that I write because I can’t not write. This week I spit on that artist. I don’t want to write in the tiny little gaps between work and friends and washing the windows so I can finally see that summer has descended upon East Belfast. I want to lie on the sofa and watch the entire box set of the X Files. I want to read other people’s writing. I want to go and sit on the beach in the sun while it’s still there and not have to take into consideration the fact that writing on a lap top outside is a squinty, screen-glaring impossibility, despite the two dozen or more non-writers who, every summer, suggest I should take my manuscript outside and work on it in the sun with a nice glass of wine. I really am not “feeling” writing on any level this week.

However, between bouts of dizziness, headaches, writers’ block and many, many episodes of Don’t Tell the Bride I’ve been asking myself some very honest questions about writing and I’m starting to draw some conclusions. Writing, for me is a number of things I simply can’t afford to get rid of, none of which involve monetary gain, (thank goodness for that). I do write because I am compelled to and even though this week I’d rather take up jogging than sit down and write, I’m pretty sure that if I neglected the words for too long, the desire would come back to me eventually and I’d be compelled to drag my laptop out of hibernation. Secondly I’ve realised that I write, even when I’m not trying to directly express what’s going on internally, to order my thoughts, to address my anxieties, to try and spring clean my head so I can be a functional human being around other people. Without writing I feel cluttered inside and far too introspective; it’s a safety valve of sorts for people like myself who have a tendency to live within their own heads. Finally, I’ve realised that there is nothing which makes me happier or more like myself than writing a good sentence. This week I’ve written zero good sentences but I’ve read over some damn good sentences I’d already written for the new novel and it was reassuring to be reminded that I am both capable of writing well and enlivened by the process.

So, I’m not going to stop writing, no matter what Will Self tells me or how many other priorities I have to pinch to create some writing room in the day. I’m going to rest a little this week, catch up with myself and the people who are important to me, read some books, drink some wine, sit out in the sun/perpetual drizzle and remember that this is not a fun run round Stormont Park I’ve signed up for. This is the long distance equivalent of running an ultra-marathon through the Sahara desert, whilst wearing high heels AND paying for the privilege simply because I’m at my best when I run. Standing still, I’m beginning to admit, has never really been an option.

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