This is my 90th post. It’s a venerable number, but if you remember that the blog has been going for nearly five years it’s really not that many – an average of 18 posts a year, or one and a half a month. The blog is now a book and I’ve blogged about the book, so enough already. Time to get back to the main theme of this blog: writing.
Er, well, yes. So what about the writing, then? Glad you asked that question, as people say when they wish you hadn’t. For a lot of last year I was in quite a low state, for both personal and political reasons. The personal reasons can stay personal, but depression about the state of the world is now so widespread that it seems almost impossible not to express it. What is going to become of us – and not just us, the human race, but the planet as a whole? The more desperate the ecological crisis becomes, the more the capitalist elite is empowered to wreck the earth and kill off its hapless inhabitants for the sake of short-term gain. And to condemn most of humanity to increasing poverty and deprivation in the interests of the ‘free market’. When the CEO of Nestlé says that human beings have no right to water and drug companies make cheap-to-produce medicines too expensive for people in poorer countries, they seem to have lost all sense that they are human too, and just as vulnerable to disease and death as anyone else. Or that, supreme individuals though they believe themselves to be, without a society to function in they couldn’t function at all.
But however much the political situation matters, I was talking about writing. In the larger scheme of things my writing is unlikely to count very much, especially as most of it hasn’t been directly about the state of the world, but in the little cosmos that I call me it matters a lot. Publication, yes, recognition, yes: I would like both of those – but see a wonderful blog post by my writing friend Emma Geen for how easily they become fool’s gold. And beyond that I still want to do it because I want to do it. I feel much more alive and whole when the ideas are coming and the words are finding their way on to the page, when I can see something I hadn’t seen before or find a voice for an insight or a character. And, in a poem or a piece of prose, when the words start to sing and find a melody of their own.
Since the turn of the year I’ve felt the impulse to write creeping back. I’ve written or drafted several new poems and have started to begin (this is not a tautology) the rewrite of my novel – doing it differently, finding a new way. A lot of last year I was busy collecting and compiling: my poetry collection, once first of all and then again, at least one pamphlet which hasn’t yet seen the light of day, and of course the blog book, the only one so far to have appeared in print. I enjoyed doing it – I like arranging things nicely – and it kept me in touch with writing even when I wasn’t producing much that was new. Any poems I did write came mostly from workshops; I’m not sure if I wrote any that were self-generated. I didn’t write much in the way of fiction either, having found it hard to regain confidence in my abilities as a novelist. I did write a lot in my personal journal, but it’s not the kind of writing that would find its way into the public domain. I’ve blogged a bit too, of course, but I see that more as an offshoot of other writing.
So what has rekindled this flicker of life? Partly an intense and difficult, but ultimately healing, retreat over Christmas, partly the gradual, almost imperceptible lengthening of the days and the hope the light brings, especially once I turn the corner into my birthday in mid-January, perhaps too a natural cycle of creativity followed by consolidation, a waiting for what’s new to emerge when the time is right. And I mustn’t underestimate the support and stimulus of other writers: my dear prose group from the Bath Spa MA, a poetry workshopping group I’ve joined recently, whose members are friends as well as poets I respect, and a poetry seminar I’m now part of which is challenging me to write better and edit more stringently than I have before. If I hadn’t known before how important it is to have a community of writers, I’d certainly have realised it now. The fact that other people I know write beautiful poems and best-selling novels can be dispiriting and envy-making but it’s also an inspiration, an encouragement for me to do the best I can. When they believe in my work and can see how I might make it better I’m full of appreciation, and their belief in it helps me believe in it too. Gradually it’s allowing those scared pieces of writing to make their way into the world again, till sooner or later gates that seemed to be closed are opened almost without my knowing it.
That’s what it’s all about really, the writing: that excitement, the feeling that there’s nothing else quite like it. It doesn’t always come, but I’m listening for the signal…