Exile on Vain Street

Imagine a whole street where writers beavered away behind their keyboards gawping at the screen while muttering under their breath at their latest hateful/genius piece of prose.

Not a pleasant prospect is it? But many families are forced to suffer the ignominy or pleasure of this daily ritual which can make for a difficult union and a strained relationship with loved ones.

Most of them pick up the pieces while the so-called artist slips on their imaginary boxing gloves every day, bashing away round after round in an effort to stay in the ring and not get knocked out by rejection, disappointment, or the lowest feeling of them all, being ignored.

The meeting of minds here is an extremely difficult path to navigate because even when the writer if in a so-called ‘off’ period – that is taking the kids to school, making the breakfast or doing the ironing – an idea for a story will pop up, a line of dialogue will mysteriously emerge or a character will suddenly have ginger hair; it’s unavoidable. And if you don’t write it down, chances are you won’t remember it. So the iron ends up singeing the shirt. The daydream believer is a dangerous animal.

William Golding once said that a writer (and it’s probably true of all humans) inhabits the spiritual world and the real world. That is, they probably have a slightly deeper relationship with nature which allows them to exploit its wondrous, infinite resources. In good periods, this can produce memorable stories and great novels. In bad ones, it can produce self-indulgent trash and a destructive sense of entitlement.

So is it ego, vanity or something deeper within a writer that makes them so challenging to live with?* It’s all those things and more. Yet when everything clicks, the sense of achievement in serving up a great story can be heady, rapturous and utterly life-changing.

It’s worth it just for that feeling. Until the next novel has to be written.

* I’m not challenging to live with. Just thought I’d make that clear.


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