There would be little point in talking about the things I love if I didn’t take a little bit of time to explain just exactly what it is I love about writing. As often as I grumble about it or speak of it as a compulsion I’m sure there are many of my friends and acquaintances who wonder why on earth I pursue such a thankless activity. In the past I’ve lauded it as a way for my childless self to reproduce. I often speak of it as a process of magic from God, and that’s all true in an abstract way.
But then there are the guts of the thing, the experience of the grit of doing. That’s what I long to express to non-writers and to see if other writers have the same sort of journey.
It starts with just sitting down at the workspace and staring at the blank page. Writers complain about this but I think we do so not because of the page or the blankness but because of what happens next–what we are scared to talk about.
So there you are–I am–sitting at my iMac and staring at the purple words in MSWord. I do that for a few minutes, wondering if it’s time yet. It’s the same feeling I get whenever I swim, as I stand at the edge of the pool and watch the impossibly blue water shot through with ribbons of light and steel myself for the shock of immersion.
Then I read back over the last words I wrote in the story. Where were we when we broke off and helicoptered out of that landscape? The characters insert themselves back in my head even as I insert my head back in their world. Tennessee recedes. My basement office becomes the place where my body sits while my mind goes to a Welsh lake, an Irish pub, a garden at the edge of the sea.
It is like going into the woods where no path is marked; you take your first steps hesitantly upon the bracken, bracing yourself against the mossy bark of a nearby tree, a tree you know. Then you walk on. You go further and further, expecting trees and deadfall and finding them there as you knew they would be. Then the forest takes hold of you. While you walk under your own power you are continually surprised by the things that you didn’t expect but are wonderful to behold. Shafts of sunlight break through the trees, water from the last rainfall drips from leaf to leaf in a mild music.
It’s like that once you go into the world of your story. You are someplace else surrounded by familiar things but there are unexpected happenings all around you. You are there and not here.
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Why do I love this? I do not know. I’ve been telling myself stories as long as I can remember, mildly hypnotising myself with music and rhythm so that I could go to a world of my own making. I suppose it might be an illness. Lord knows it’s a compulsion. But it’s also so very wonderful, an utter joy. It is perhaps my favourite thing to do by myself and it is usually when I’m happiest in my skin.