At the moment, I’m not writing this book. I’m doing lots of things, but writing this book isn’t one of them. Last week, this situation didn’t feel too odd. ‘I’m not writing this book,’ I’d say to myself, ‘But I’m preparing to write this book. Preparation is key.’ In fact, I’d feel so confident in (and overcome by) preparation being key, that I’d tell people about it when they asked me how the book was going.
“It’s fine. All fine. Abraham Lincoln once said that if he had ten hours to chop down a tree, he’d spend eight of it sharpening his axe,” I’d say, and they’d look at me like I had a herd of wild animals running up behind me. “And that’s what I’m doing: axe sharpening. Not the writing, the writing’s the easy bit. Preparation. Preparation is key. Why are you looking at me like that?”
That was last week. That was the point of view I’d adopted last week and I appeared to be happy with it.
This week – well, there’s very little going on this week, too. Certainly from my end, no novella writing is going on. Now and again I’ll check, and yep, sure enough, no sort of book writing will be happening. I’ll find myself watching Peep Show, rereading novels that I’ve already reread or absent-mindedly thinking about women I’ve had sex with, but you won’t find me writing a book. Even the axe-sharpening – if that indeed is what I was doing – has ground to a halt. This simultaneously leaves me feeling empty, amused, horrified and, rarely, elated. I’ll find myself eating a breakfast far more healthy than you might imagine (brown toast, natural yoghurt, banana, grapefruit juice) at around 11:30 am, thinking: “Now this really is strange. I’m still definitely not writing that novella. How long can this go on for? I certainly didn’t spend five or six hours in the middle of last night writing it like I imagined I would. Perhaps I’ll write some of it later.”
And when later rolls around I’ll still not be writing the novella. It’s verging on the abnormal. For years this is all I’ve wanted: a room, an idea, enthusiasm, no pressing financial, matrimonial, or emotional issues to deal with, a ready-made and enthusiastic audience. I’ve done the preparation – nailed it last week – so why am I not writing the thing? ‘Is it because I don’t have a desk in the room?’, I wonder.
Yesterday someone gave me a desk. Today, nothing.
“I’ve got writer’s block,” I announced rather grandly over lunch earlier, a lunch where I definitely wasn’t doing any novella writing whatsoever. “It’s okay though, I’ll cope,” I told my lunch companions, as if I was telling them I’d just been given two months to live. “I just thought you should know.”
I haven’t though, have I? Got writer’s block, I mean. At best I’ve got the writing yips. But why with writing? When I was painting houses for a living I didn’t need to steel myself in order to paint a room. When I used to work in bars, I didn’t tell my customers: “Look, I’d love to prepare and serve this drink for you but I don’t feel quite right about it. Not yet, at least. It’ll come, and when it comes you’ll love it, but you might have to wait a few hours while I really think it through.”
Of course I know the answer to this. Serving drinks is easy, writing much harder. But when you strip it down, writing just involves putting the right words in the right order – that’s all. Someone better than me once said that. So that’s what I’ll have to do: chain myself to this desk for the next few weeks and force myself to put the right words in the right order.
Apologies for writing a post like this. I promised myself I’d never commit something like this to paper. But in a way it’s helped so, you know, thanks very much.
Abraham Lincoln probably not writing a book, earlier.