Everything important takes effort and our lives are enriched when we take on challengesby Cathy Rentzenbrink / December 10, 2019 / Leave a comment
I’ve just finished a book! Writing one, that is. I finish reading a book several times a week and often wonder as I turn the last page how much authorial time, blood, sweat and tears went into creating the object that has taken me a mere two or three hours to consume. That’s the magic of it, that the effort should be invisible. A book should read as though the words flowed seamlessly from the pen to the page, but the reality is different.
I start with gusto but soon I can’t remember what it was I liked about my project and can’t imagine that anyone will want to read it. I get stuck in despondency, besieged by debilitating self-doubt. I wish I could type blind so that I wouldn’t have to see the evidence of my own lack of talent right in front of me on the screen. That’s when I can write anything at all. Often, I’m rendered silent, revolted by myself, sick of the sound of my voice and all I want to do is hide in a deep hole. The only thing I might have energy for is to throw a brick through the window of those authors who say that writer’s block doesn’t exist.
Why does this surprise me, surprise us? We accept that climbing a mountain or running a marathon is hard, and requires training and preparation, much of it gruelling. We know that learning to play a musical instrument will demand effort and not deliver instant gratification, so why do we think that writing should be easy?
And, if it is so excruciating, why do I keep doing it? Why don’t I confine myself to teaching, which I love in a much more straightforward and less insane way? It’s a compulsion, I suppose. And, also, there is truly no greater feeling that having done it, than having succeeded in wrestling the unruly thoughts onto the page, in reaching that magnificent moment where you deliver the book to the editor and feel full of triumph. There is no high so exhilarating.
Because everything important takes effort. Our lives are enriched when we take on challenges, when we stretch ourselves, when we sign-up to do a stand-up course, when we get out of our comfort zones, when we take action rather than just sit around in our pyjamas eating sweets and reading other people’s books.
I know marathon runners who keep on running while telling themselves they won’t do it again, and actors who stand in the wings pledging that this will absolutely be the last time. And then they change their minds, of course. Halfway through a book I too decide that there is no way that I am doing this again. And then, the closer I get to the finish line, the more I start flirting with new ideas.
The trick of it, I’ve decided, is to get better at tolerating the uncertainly and discomfort of the “under construction” phase. There is such a horrendous gap between my aspiration for my work and the terrible mess I see in front of me that I become overwhelmed by the scale of the task in hand. This is the bit that I need to get better at navigating. I just need to hold steady, to imagine that I’m entering the final stretch, and recognise that the ups and down and the existential crisis are part of the process. All will—eventually—be well. Simple? I hope so.
I do want to have a break from writing about myself. Three books of memoir seem more than enough. To that end, this will be my last column. It has been a pleasure to discuss some of the absurdities of the modern world with you but now I feel the urge to escape my examined life and dive into fiction instead. I want to time travel, I think, to adventure into the past or, possibly, the future. I will leave you here, dear reader, in 2020, and go off to imagine myself into a different body, a different landscape, perhaps a different world. And if I don’t go entirely crazy, maybe, one day, I’ll get to finish another book.