When you start writing, plenty of people will advise you that it’s a difficult life; it’s rife with frustration, rejection and any number of challenges both practical and creative. What is much less discussed is that while you’re facing these issues – picking yourself up after a polite “no, thank you,” from a magazine, trying to find the right word or unearth an emerging structure - the rest of your life goes on too, with all the attendant ups and downs that living entails.
This week I got unwelcome news which is causing me some stress – nothing too serious, I should add – but my first thought was how it would impact my writing and the recent plans I had made on that score. I felt bereft of the hope I had built up recently and I just wanted this problem from my life to just go away. I realise how easily I had fallen into a familiar trap; wishing for a perfect life, telling myself I will concentrate on writing after I have everything else in place, once I have just got over whatever bump in the road I’ve encountered…
It may feel like you have a good reason to put your writing on hold, but really that kind of thinking is a trap. With a few exceptions, nothing should stop your writing plans because waiting for the ideal time will lead you to wait forever - life is never perfect. I know it is a trap because I completed one assignment on my Creative Writing MA after having lost Dad at the beginning of the term. I barely felt like getting out of bed, let alone writing poetry, and yet once I started to work, I found that the creative process gave me freedom.
What is most interesting to me is that at the time, writing gave me a way to escape, however briefly, from my personal difficulties and yet when I read it back now, I see it is shot through with my grief. I was writing a long narrative poem and reaching for a fantasy world but regardless of my intent, the real world crept in and I think the poem is the richer for it. The jaws of this trap are sharpened by the fact that not only can you not wait for life to be perfect, but you shouldn’t want it to be.
Poetry operates with tension at its core; a poem could be written about an intensely personal experience and convey something more universal. A poem like Ted Hughes’ The Thought Fox is both about an animal and the idea of an animal – or perhaps the animal of an idea. The articulation is beautiful precisely because of the friction between these concepts; they rub up against each other and overlap. The fox is too real to exist only in the imagination, the metaphor too clear to let it just be a fox. Whether you want to think about the problems of “real life” or not, they will creep in to anything you write, and this isn’t a bad thing. On the contrary I believe, like the pressure simmering within Hughes’ poem, it makes the work richer. It’s important to remember that and I write this as much as a reminder to myself as anything else. It is lovely to sometimes daydream about having no worries for the rest of my days, but deep down I know that day will never come. Even if it did, what would I write about then? I write to understand the world so if everything is in its place and understood, what would be left to discover?
As for my recent challenge, I am sure I’ll find a way out of it and it will soon be nothing but a footnote in my memory. Other challenges many of us are facing due to the current social and political climate may not be so easy to solve and although I don’t think these issues should be ignored, neither do I think they should stop you from working. I know some people believe that times of unrest can lead to a rich resurgence within art; I don’t really subscribe to that school of thought. Given the choice, I think I’d rather have a fairer, kinder world than one with beautiful art that arises from protest and I don’t think a writer has to be tortured in order to create great work. Writers do, however, have to connect with their readers and for that reason, any intrusion in the life of a writer, good or bad, has to be accepted as part of the writing life.