To Be a Writer

I’ve got to write something today. I can feel it starting. That slow, awful agitation rumbling in every muscle, bone, crevice of my discontented body. That quiver in my fingertips and sharpness in my eyes. Everything feels and looks of something that matters. It’s the world. It’s too much on these days. The rattle of trains and the murmur of tourists and the utter loudness of London. My teeth clench in irritation as I gather my notebook, laptop, pens, chargers and stuff them into a rucksack. Why does it all have to be so noisy? Can I not have a moment of peace?

Alas, not. For I am a writer. To be a writer to be stretched and wired and pushed and pulled by your mind and your surroundings. The only ‘peace’ you can hope for is the utter manic absorption that you may feel when you finally give into the urges of your true nature and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

On the train, the sun is too bright, and the sky is too clear. I regret leaving the flat, but I cannot write at home. I hug my rucksack to my chest and try not to be overwhelmed by the world, but everything is too much. The intercom announcements. The opening and closing of doors. The floods of silent people, rustling against one another. They are too many and too quiet.

I press my headphones into my ears and play some music. The intense beats and rhythms soothe me slightly, until I start to think and imagine, and then it’s all too emotional and then I’m crying as I change platforms. I don’t mind too much. To be a writer is to be painfully in tune with your emotions, to log each and every obscure sorrow that you feel, save it be wasted. I take comfort in the thought that I will soon be settled in a café, and able to pour my heart out onto a page.

The café I have in mind is tucked away, as much as one can be tucked away in London. I walk through a tunnel that has been newly painted with poetry that I want to swallow whole; it is so beautiful. I am thrilled by the shade of the trees, the pleasant cool of the air at this level. I want to walk forever, but I am bound by my purpose. I want to join in the conversations that customers are holding with the barista as I order my coffee, but the key has already turned in the corner of my mouth, trapping me within my own creative silence. It’s game over if I talk now. To be a writer is to know when to be quiet, to take great steps back from everyone and everything in order to successfully absorb and record the human experience.

To be a writer is to be dreadfully lonely, at least some of the time. And you learn to be comfortable with this loneliness, because it is when you do your best work.

My heart thumps as I take a seat in the café. The anticipation is strong and sickly and too compelling to ignore. Yet, my mind still struggles against it – check your phone, read your book, watch those people – I offer a firm no, I insist on focus. Soon, my thoughts are tumbling into shape. It certainly was not what I imagined working on this morning…but I humour it, whipping out my laptop and facing a blank page. Within seconds, there is a paragraph, and half an hour later there is a page.

I am glad to have trusted my instincts as I write this. Often, I need to be disciplined and follow a plan, or I would never finish anything. But very occasionally, I have the privilege of sudden inspiration and the ability to generate a fully formed piece within an hour. This is how my first short story occurred several years ago, at a time where I believed myself incapable of writing anything shorter than a novel. To be a writer is to challenge your own expectations. Sometimes, you need to relinquish control, to trust parts of your mind that you rarely listen to in the daily grind of routine and work.

I sigh a little as I wrap up this piece. I feel the tension I woke up with fall away, ounce by ounce. I am glad to have written today. I don’t think I have ever regretted writing anything, even though it is such a battle to convince myself to sit down and write sometimes. It’s sort of like physical exercise – you’re not normally in the mood even though you know you’ll feel much better if you do it. To be a writer is to overcome your own resistance to writing. Mostly, you would just prefer to be in the world, to experience it and to let someone else do this part. You must navigate your moods, to figure out when to write and when to just be.

Now, my coffee cup is empty beside me and I am content listening to the sounds of the café. The buzz of chatter and the tinkling of china is pleasant and familiar. I feel like I can go forward with my day, with my mind a little clearer than before. I am so grateful to be a writer and to have a way to cope, even if it feels like a burden at times.

We all need something to need. I don’t know if it works the same with other passions and pursuits but what I do know is that doing something creative can be incredibly cathartic. Don’t push away those urges if you have them, because they come from an important place. Self-expression is a need as much as breathing or eating is. We are emotional creatures and we are meant to communicate how we feel, in some way, sometimes. It isn’t always possible in everyday conversations, and that is what art is for.

Don’t forget to create. It is what we were born to do.

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