I’m currently working on an article for a competition, and that has had me thinking a lot – more than usual – about the process of writing. It may be no coincidence, but I’ve also been reading Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Slipstream. At first I thought it was like reading a boiled down version of the Cazalet series, but as Howard revealed more of her adult-self, the Cazalet’s were left behind. This isn’t a review of Slipstream, which will come, but I guess my reaction to it… particularly when thinking of myself in parallel to it.
It is comforting that Howard struggled with her identity as a writer, and also with her practice as a writer. It wasn’t until she was in her 50s (I think) that she found herself as a writer. She seemed to struggle to fit in writing with a busy life – something that another published writer told me she struggled with. I sometimes think I get too easily distracted by ‘life’, (sailing, travelling, exercise/fitness), and this fuels the self-critic. If I was wedded to writing, I’d be up in my garret to the expense of everything else. However, I don’t want to stop doing any of the things that I do, so I must be content, and make the most of, the time that remains. I am a part-time writer, at best, and I write something every day. I don’t have months of paralysis, or block. I am always writing something.
That said, it’s been a while since I tackled the mountain that is my project, my manuscript. It was actually two months, because I was busy travelling. I have journals fat with words and several nuggets for stories that serve the writerly me as a result. Also, when I came back to the project, I spent a painful afternoon facing up to the fact that the narrative voice is all wrong. Did the distance help that? It meant that when I started writing, again, I changed it. I have wrestled with the inner critic (still in the Fogou) and resisted the urge to go back to the beginning and fix that – there is more to fix than the narrative voice, and I’ll fix that on the second draft. The first draft is shit, remember!
I was also comforted by Howard, when she wrote of being immobilised by fear. And that was even when the writing was going well – she would worry that she would wake up the next day, and the muse (my expression) would have left her. Kingsley Aimis taught her the disciplines in her writing practice, which, if I’m honest, I still think I have to learn. I am better than I was, but I am still a little wayward in my writing habits.
So, for any writer who wants some comfort, or even inspiration, I recommend Slipstream. It’s no bad thing either writing a composition on the process of writing. However, both eat up manuscript writing time, and that’s also something I shouldn’t shirk. But then, put simply, Writers write, and I know I do just that.