Throes of Creation, Leonid Pasternak
I am working on a book, or rather trying to.
When I was little I used to write a lot. On our old computer (“Four gigs of ROM!” my mother cried, “You couldn’t fill that your whole life!”), I zapped out over two feet of floppy discs, filling them with stories about children who time-travel and a girl who saves Mars. They slid easily into the hundreds of pages, until my mother threw her hands up in frustration and shouted, “Just kill them!”
My mother yells a lot.
I never could finish properly, but it hardly mattered. What mattered was that I wrote every single goddamn day. And because I’d developed that habit, the words came like water when I sat down to do the work. It flowed. It was good.
I’ve been trying to find my way back to that river ever since, but when you’re older, it’s harder. You start questioning your work. You become convinced you didn’t research enough, haven’t experienced enough to produce living people from ink and breathe life into their two-dimensional bodies, like God blowing substance into clay.
(Remember when it was so easy? Remember when you were twelve and all you had to do was ask your Iranian friend, “Hey, what’s a common Iranian girl’s name?”, and then you could write an Iranian character that satisfied you enough? Knowing the name gave her mystery, an accent, the dark eyes that described to you her dark past. No more.)
Then you become convinced that you can’t write because you don’t have the right tools. So you buy books about writing. So many books! Stacks, and you’ve picked up maybe one, because the voices of other writers in your head, giving you their subjective “tips”, irks you.
Then notebooks—one after the other, sometimes you fill them, sometimes you don’t, but all you learn from that is to get fickle about paper quality. I can only write in a Leuchtturm1917, it’s the smoothest. Also it’s German, and the Germans think of nice touches like page numbers and table of contents sections. Can’t live without those again.
Then it’s all about the pen: Pilot fine-tips first, then Uni-Ball Jetstreams, then you graduate to a smooth maroon Sheaffer fountain pen made specifically for left-handed people. A delightful instrument. Too bad it inks you all over your hand, and inside your handbag, and it’s hell writing on cards with because you’re always smearing, smearing.
A typewriter, maybe? The best writers rode hard, lugged their Olympia SMs or their Hermes 3000s everywhere, slugged whiskey, changed ink cartridges around and carried reams and reams of paper. Threw out and rewrote the ones they didn’t like, or maybe just made typos on.
So much ribbon and paper and ink. And to produce what?
A short story once in awhile, when you take a weekend writer’s workshop, once or twice a year. Then the fragments of something longer, something that betrays you and flies off to finish itself with a better, faster writer. The bitch. Then you manage to produce one thing in a fit of rage one sleepless night—but it’s too personal, you can’t let anyone read that ever, because then you’ll betray everyone you know and also everyone will learn how much you love yourself. How very much.
So one day in March, on one of these soul-chases, I picked up Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Writing’s like a marathon, he says. It’s solitary. It requires discipline. It’s a long game. And I took up running, because I thought it would help me write.
But then my knee started to hurt, so I bought stability shoes and knee wraps. And I realised I only had one sportsbra, so I bought more, and since I was on Nike.com anyway, and there was a sale, I bought a whole runner’s wardrobe: Everything needed for fall, spring, summer, winter.
Even the padded breathable socks. Such good socks! You can get two runs out of them before throwing them into the wash.
I ran for about six months, then the pain came back into my leg, so I bought another pair of shoes. Then that pair gave out, so I went to a podologist and got specially-made soles, ones that ensure my shoes last longer because these bad-boys will hold out.
In short, I became a runner. And in that time—one year of buyer’s hijinks, of gathering the perfect accoutrements and watching runners’ YouTube videos!—I wrote plenty of words, lots of fragments of things, but still never finished anything. I can’t get past my own head. I can’t see past the callous, tiresome but sexy world of advertising, can’t see past the neuroses that keep me comparing myself to another account director or strategist or copywriter. Maybe one day when I’m retired and fuck-you rich, I think. But not today. I don’t deserve it yet.
In the meantime, I keep running, keep taking the weekend workshops once a year, keep buying Leuchtturm1917 notebooks, keep refilling the ink in my bleedy-ass Sheaffer pen. I drink whisky, I drink tea, I smoke. I read voraciously, in French and English, biographies and science books and literature—so much literature! I reread, to see how the books “work”. And I blog. About advertising. Small, pithy blogs about ad campaigns. People laugh, sometimes.
All the conditions are right.
So I wait.