In Real Life – On Writing

Writing hurts.

I have said before, and I won’t deny it now, that writing is but a craft; I don’t believe in writer’s block, or inspiration, or any sort of magical attribute to art. By that I don’t mean, however, that there isn’t anything a bit magical about the feeling of writing.

I don’t know if it is like that for everyone, but what I feel, when a thought goes from the back of my head up to my frontal lobes, is a thickening of my whole being.

It starts with a stern light-headedness and proceeds to open my eyes very wide while my nostrils and eyebrows start doing very funny things. I breathe in, and air does not go farther than my chest and shoulders, that swell and deflate, slowly. A ball of lead sits in my throat. My neck stretches and locks. It’s like my blood has become fused, boiling gold, and travels through my veins perceptibly, burning my insides. Everything hurts. My upper body, my arms, it hurts. But I know that pain, I recognise it, and I know it’s joy.

I don’t sleep, I eat very little. It’s like this idea, or thought, or plan, takes over my whole being and any living function goes to the back-burner (aside from peeing. For some reason, when I write, I pee a lot.)

Sometimes, I will hold it there, however painful it is. I keep myself busy, away from writing, because walking around with that feeling is inebriating – even if I look a bit crazy.

It’s not the fairies. It’s the magical awareness of the surfacing of a thought, from the unreachable depths of your unconscious. I imagine millions of stimuli hitting my cortex, firing electricity in my head, generating ideas, making connections, while I am there, completely unaware, maybe at Tesco’s buying a £2.00 pepperoni pizza (well, two. I am insatiable.)

Until I am not unaware any more. Because the little person in my head, that other me I never talk to, that sees and hears and processes, is done with his creation (my tiny me is a boy) and wants me to know. “Hi, Ele. I see you are having a tough time figuring out what you are doing. In fact, you are losing track. So here you go. That’s what your play is about.”

Harold Pinter said, when he won the Nobel Prize, about writing The Homecoming: “I somehow suspected that A was a father and that B was his son, but I had no proof. This was however confirmed a short time later when B (later to become Lenny) says to A (later to become Max), ‘Dad, do you mind if I change the subject?” I quote this sentence over and over again; I quoted it at uni, and Colin Teevan brushed it off with a smirk saying that Pinter was just playing himself up (if ever necessary) and it was just a really cool thing to say to his fans.

I don’t know if it is even legal to say this, but the problem with that Pinter’s quote is that it is a bit underdeveloped.

I get that feeling of suspicion, I know what it is. It’s not the fairies of writing – and I don’t believe Pinter thinks that either. I believe it is the complex surfacing of a thought. A sense of awareness that something is happening within you, quite far from the reaching of your consciousness. It’s you, but it’s that you that you never meet. A tiny you, sitting just above your cerebellum, working on your plays. He works and thinks and types and when the draft is ready, he sends it up.

And isn’t it beautiful? You are a walking ecosystem. Things happen within you, and you are not even aware. You have such a power, as a self, of creation and realisation.

On the last day of my BA at Birkbeck, outside the Northumberland Arms pub on Tottenham Court Road, at around 1am, David Eldridge looked at me through his glasses and said: “Don’t you dare sitting on the fact that you have written two good plays. You go on writing. Don’t stop. Don’t you ever stop.”

In Year One, Marcy Kahn gave us two pieces of paper that now are hung on the wall above my couch, to the mercy of Begemoth (my cat). One is “Ten Habits of Highly Effective Playwrights” and the other is “Ten Habits of Highly Ineffective Playwrights“. I almost never look at the Ineffective ones, as I believe in positive reinforcement; but one of the clauses that nevertheless jumps to my eyes is “Ineffective playwrights never let go of one single piece of work.” Which sort of keeps me continuously under check, so that sometimes, though I am writing, I think I am not.

I am writing. I didn’t even realise I was until I saw myself doing it. I thought I wasn’t, because my chicken is stuck in a non-place right now, so I immediately thought I was running dry again. But I am writing. I am physically writing – I am writing this, for instance. I am working on a feature film. I am co-writing a pilot episode for a tv series with Matt – and I am writing in my head. And that is nothing second to the act of sitting down and hammering on a keyboard or getting calluses on your fourth finger – just as long as you eventually get down to that.

It’s a mania. It’s an obsession. Just like breathing.


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