The standstill

Other people’s words about … writing

I knew I was writing a book about anaesthesia, but I didn’t know why. Nor did I know why it mattered to me that I didn’t know. Why does anyone do anything? What I was struggling with … was not simply why I was writing (and consequently, I felt, what I was really writing about), but who was doing the writing. There seemed to me two ‘me’s — each with their own agendas and itineraries and neither able or prepared to communicate with the other. Everything one wrote, the other rejected. One I will call the journalist — a pragmatic procedural self, this ‘me’ positioning myself as the objective observer reporting on what I found in my travels. The other I will call the dreamer. Not in the romantic sense, but the dreamer as fool, blundering around, kicking up fragments of a different story.

from ‘Anaesthesia’
by Kate Cole-Adams

I’ve been writing the same book for the last seven years, and that seems to me, in today’s world of electronic publishing and social media, a very long time. It is a long time. I’m a realist: I know that there are no guarantees I’ll ever finish it; and I know, too, that even if I do, there no guarantees it will get published. Still, for whatever reason, I find I can’t write any faster than I do.

So I was encouraged when I read that it took Kate Cole-Adams ten years or so to research, write and publish her non-fiction book Anaesthesia, from which I’ve quoted above. It’s a very fine book, worth taking ten years to write, I think. I found myself marking out several passages as I read it — passages I returned to over and over, and thought about using for one or more of my blog posts. So the quote I’ve used today may be just the first: there will be more to come, I hope.

Everything one [part of me] wrote, the other rejected. It occurred to me when I read these words that, over and above her own personal experience of her self, which Anaesthesia in part explores, what Cole-Adams is really describing in this passage is writer’s block. People think of writer’s block as being unable to write, but I don’t think that’s what it is, not really. In my experience it’s more a case of writing and writing, but hating everything that you write. You write, you write, you delete, you delete. Eventually, you come to a writing standstill.

At a standstill —
or poised to soar?

I like Cole-Adams’s image of herself, the writer, as dreamer and fool, blundering around, kicking up fragments of a different story. For me, too, that’s what writing often seems to be about. And sometimes — just sometimes — when you allow this to happen, when you allow the judgmental, procedural part of yourself to step back from the stage, it seems okay that this is how it feels.

At moments like this, it seems okay, too, to be taking your time to write what you write. Five years. Seven years. Nine years. Ten. It’s all part of the blundering, right?

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