When I started this blog, the one stipulation I gave myself was that it wouldn’t be personal. I would write about books, I would write about movies, I would even share some of my own writing; but the one thing I would not write about was me. Why? I don’t know exactly. Maybe because I spend so much time living in my own mind that I fail to find it interesting, maybe because writing about the self is the most difficult form of expression. Either of these options could form a credible reason but, like most things in life, the decision just wasn’t that logical. Besides, with social media, I think that too much of our personal lives already DOES find its way online, and I’m loath to support the trend. But then the question becomes: how do I write a blog and not put myself in it?
I’ve always believed that creativity, in any form, is an expression of the self, though maybe not always intentionally. Through writing especially, we create characters to explore hopes and desires, fears and impulses and, at the heart of everything, life and death; we weave plotlines to try and make sense of things bigger than ourselves, to instil reason into apparently random and maddening events; and, most of all, we create a universe filled with the friends we never had, the roads we didn’t take and the lives we could never have lived. Every time we write we give a shadow of ourselves over to the page, which dictates everything from the subject to the tone of the piece. Therefore, while I’ve been labouring under the delusion of objectivity thus far, I’ve probably been revealing more about myself than I could ever sit down and express, or that you can wrangle out of me in a year’s worth of conversations. The thought is, at the very least, a sobering one.
So, if we accept that writing is a deeply personal thing, what happens when the sense of self it depends on is challenged? Worse, if it is defeated? Lately certain people and situations in my life have been difficult, and beyond my ability to resolve. The knock on effect is that I begin to question my identity as a good person, and my ability to achieve anything in the future. Unsurprisingly, my writing also suffers from this uncertainty of character. I find myself crossing out and screwing more things up. I find myself unable to articulate what I want to say. And, most of all, I find myself angry with these failings. So, unable to resolve the situation which caused these feelings, I want instead to explore the question they prompt. It’s a question which, if you’re willing, I want anyone who reads this to answer: What is the hardest thing about writing?
I don’t mean the mechanics, such as: apostrophes, colons or verb noun agreements – for fifty percent of us those are a given anyway. I mean, deep down, at the heart of the love/hate relationship that is writing, what is the thing you struggle with most?
I’ll start off by going first –
The hardest thing about writing, for me, is self-belief. I frequently doubt whether my writing has any merit, or whether I really have the ability to turn the pleasant fantasy in my head to something concrete. The doubt itself is simple, but its effects can be crippling, leaving me for hours, days, weeks staring at a blank page and being unable to put anything down. Furthermore, while writing is frequently described as a journey, I also consider it a partial declaration of certainty – you may begin on a wandering path but, sooner or later, you have to know where you’re going, and who’s going to be there. If self-belief is lost then, by its very nature, certainty is sacrificed too, until you’re at a point where the thing you love most becomes the hardest, most inhospitable thing to do.
As has been said before, and will undoubtedly be said again, writing is equal parts pleasure and pain. William Styron summed it up well when he stated: ‘I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let’s face it, writing is hell.’ Yet it is a hell we all steadfastly pursue for that brief chance of success.
Well, this has been my foray into a personal-style post, and on the whole I think it’s been an overwhelming failure – though, of course, that could be the self-doubt talking again. There is, however, one last question I think I’ve implicated but haven’t yet tackled, and which I think half the world is secretly looking for an answer to: how do you stop daily life negatively impacting on writing?
The short and definitive answer is that you don’t.
Experience is the fruit and foil of creativity, and we can never close ourselves off to it. As much as we might want to. The only way I can see through it is to keep doing what I love, or keep doing what comes hardest to me, but that I just can’t give up. Things fall apart, and I write a little each day.
Sometimes it feels like progress.
Sometimes, like Styron said, it feels like hell.
Most of the time it lands somewhere in between.