At the Poetry Business Writing Day yesterday I was talking to the wonderfully talented Laura Potts about how, when we don’t have the opportunity to write, our anxiety levels soar. I thought back to Eric Maisel’s book, Fearless Creating (above). It’s a while since I’ve read it, but he’s very insightful on the tension between working and not working. I’ve just dug out the book from my very disordered bookshelf, opened it at random and found this:
Is it honourable to say ‘no’ to the work? Yes! Is it vital to say ‘no’ to the work? Yes! Is it permitted to sit in the sun and sip a soda and not feel guilty about not working? Yes! Is it right to say ‘no’ to the work when you hear your child crying, when your loved one wants a hug, when your day job demands it, when there’s a wrong to right or a principle to defend? Yes!
There are a thousand times when you can righteously say ‘no’ to the work. But there are as many times when you must righteously say ‘yes’. Between the two there is no time left ever to say ‘maybe’. (p.93)
I realise this yes/ no thing might sound a little contradictory, but for me even the smallest act of writing can be useful. I’ve stopped waiting for the magical ‘writing time’ to manifest itself. It rarely does. I work full time. Weekends are often busy. I walk the dog. I enjoy swimming. I hate housework but like things to be clean and tidy all the same. Somewhere in all this is my writing: a sentence written in my notebook is writing, a headline cut from the newspaper is writing, half an hour typing and editing a poem is writing, attending a day’s workshop is writing (luxury), watching a documentary about Blixa Bargeld’s work with German experimental music group Einstürzende Neubauten and transcribing some of that interview is also, for me, writing. It all goes into the mix. I often write things I’m not happy with, but I’ve come to accept that as part of the process. It bothers me less and less. What’s important to me is that I’m doing the work and that occasionally I produce something good. I’ve gained more faith in myself and my work through this approach. As Maisel says: ‘Working means starting’ p.93) so I try to cut through any blocks and just do it, allowing myself lots of very small opportunities to ‘start’ . That way, even a single word gleaned from a book or an article, or overheard in the pub, has some value. Making a note of it means I’ve said ‘yes’ to the work.
Of course, there are as many ways of working as there are writers, but I hope this helps some of you who might be feeling stuck right now.