I haven’t been posting as much as I could on this blog. The reason I explain to myself is that I’m writing a book – I should focus on that. I’m six chapters deep into this book, but haven’t written anything new for months. Friends ask me how the book is going. Panic ensues and I make an anxious groaning sound not unlike Tina from Bob’s Burgers. I’ve deliberated on publishing a post like this because you can find many essays written about writer’s block and advice from writers on how to get shit done, and couldn’t think of anything but cliches. But I’ve decided to write it anyway, because one, this post isn’t really about these things, even though so far it seems like it will be, and two, I need to complete something – anything – to get me back into the habit of writing the book.
I ask myself why I’m writing this post. I scan my brain, the rational side, and the side prone to fantastical leaps of insight and hope, and conversely, paranoia. I flip through my thoughts like library index cards, but there’s no logical order there: A precedes B, which precedes Turquoise and then Things To Say When You’re Interviewed on Conan. My feelings are no easier to sort through. I feel programmed to meet all my daily obligations, with a vague sense that I’m resentful. I get up, I feed myself, I go to work, I sleep, I exercise. I brush my teeth twice a day and change my sheets weekly. I try not to overstretch myself with commitments. I remind myself to be social. On a day-to-day basis, my life is straight forward and healthy.
I think about the book a lot. What it will mean to have my name on the jacket. I’m committed to it. I am a very committed person. It’s sorta nice to know. I think about the strategies to get it published. Who reads my work? How do I get more of it seen? This strategising works when I’m in a confident, good self-esteem frame of mind. Maybe I’m not the best writer in the world, but I’ve had moderate success getting things published so far, so I can’t be too much of a fraud. You will face rejection, Self, but that’s okay – it’s part of the publishing process. You don’t want to work with an agent/editor who doesn’t get your voice. Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. When was the last time you got published? When was the last time you sent out pitches to editors? When was the last time you had an idea not related to your book?
What’s the point of pitching if nothing gets picked up? What’s the point of chasing up underpaid editors on submissions? What’s the point of being freelance if the taxation office has now cancelled your ABN? What was the point of applying for a government arts grant when you’re a solo writer just asking for cash to pay your rent while you write? Like they’ll give it to you. Where’s the proof you can finish the book? Where’s your extensive catalogue of titles? Why haven’t you been prolific and hunched over a keyboard and attending launches and networking and reading and you know how many British comedy panel shows you watch on YouTube, why do you sabotage your creative goals with apathy and perfectionism?
I teach five days a week. It’s hard to describe what a psychological toll this has on me. Most days I come home exhausted. It’s not just the brain-work of serving up lessons about language in adjusted-language for foreigners who are learning, but also working and surviving in a second language. It’s also the energy I need to be a leader of up to twenty people for four hours straight that burns me out. Working on a casual contract also heightens the stress of performing well on the job, in case you lose it. And I can’t afford to lose it. I’m no trust-fund baby; not even a middle-class parents-will-secretly-bail-me-out kind of baby.
But I go and do it, and for the most part, it’s fine. I’ve been teaching for seven years and constructing a lesson from nothing doesn’t scare me anymore. I earn a very modest wage, but I’m good with money. It’s also still a job that gives me half a day to write. And I was very successful at balancing these two tasks for the first six chapters of the book. So what’s changed?
A part of the strategising is “keeping a social media presence”. I tweet and ‘gram, but in so doing I’m privy to other creative people celebrating their successes. Or revelling in privilege. So often I’m thinking: “What do you actually do?” People used to scoff at that question – a faux pas at parties – to narrow a person’s identity down to their job. However, in these days of projecting your better self on social media, I’m entirely confused about how so many people have the time or resources to take that photo there with that technology. And for some people on Instagram, especially, who is taking that goddamn photo of you wistfully wandering that idyllic landscape? How are you affording all this? You’re on a plane again? Why? How?
SMUG VOICE INSIDE MY SKULL: “Remember, Mark Twain said ‘comparison is the death of joy’; you know better than this.”
Okay, I can do this. Let’s sit at my six-year-old laptop (that I can’t touch except the ‘on’ button because it will freeze) and type on the extension keyboard a chapter about love and loss: Chapter 7.
How is that love life going?
Getting out and dating? Making meaningful connections? Getting a fulfilling sex-life? Landing a boyfriend? You spend most days alone, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to hang out with? A best friend to do nothing in particular with? How’s that dating app world looking? How much like the Killing Fields does it really look? Strewn with headless torsos, too? Hidden land mines of sudden disinterest?
Or you could just switch that side of you off. Who needs it? You’re a picky bastard, anyway.
Flashback to friend telling me: “I lost a boyfriend and gained twenty kilos during my PhD.”
So I exercise to keep in shape, but not too much in case I look like sack of peanuts propped up against a desk. This also takes time out of my day. The guilt of not running outweighs the guilt of not writing – there’s no clear, tangible reward for the latter.
But there are still hours in my day. After washing. After cleaning. After cooking, Okay, I can do this. Did Beyonce watch a Beyonce video? No. Did Maya Angelou flick through an O magazine? Probably not.
Sigh. Only two hours before bedtime. I can’t stay up late, have to be up early in the morning for work. What if I get on a roll? Better not start. What other strategies are there? I can submit excerpts of chapters to literary publications. Okay, let’s edit.
I’m not blocked. I know what I want to write. I’ve mapped out the rest of the book.
Haha. HAHAHA. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I continue writing on the assumption people will actually want to read it. A book about me.
*has an idea to pitch an article about narcissism*
You see, this isn’t about writer’s block. And I’ve got no advice – except very cynical advice that involves rich partners. This is just an exercise in whining. Here I am on a Sunday afternoon in a house with food in the fridge. I’m healthy. I buy the organic milk. I don’t subsist on instant noodles. I’ve booked an international trip for later in the year. I don’t rely on my writing to pay the rent. That’s a decision I made. No one else. Writing to other people’s parameters doesn’t pay enough to live off alone. I work and I’m good at what I do. I’m delivering a professional development session to my peers in a month. My students generally applaud my creativity. My boss respects me. I follow through on everything. The book will get done. The book will get done.