Wednesday, 13 February 2008

The Anti-Writer and The Rat

I have just been finishing off a novel. For every writer I know, this is the most difficult time. You have to battle with yourself because there's a part of you that gets slower and slower, the closer you get to the end – a part that wants to do anything else at all, no matter how difficult or boring, just so long as it isn't writing your novel. You feel as though you could finish the damn thing off in no time if that part would only shut up and let you get on with it, but it keeps moaning and whimpering like a sick dog that needs to be put out of its misery. I call it the Anti-writer and I wish I could kill it. But I can't. All I can do is try to ignore it, even though it's like working in a room full of quarrelling children.

I told this to a friend and fellow novelist. She said that perhaps I should listen to the quarrelling children and hear what they are trying to say and offer some small comfort to the sick dog. But I was in no mood for advice, no matter how well-meant. By now I was within a few thousand words of the end and reaching the peak of my obsession. I couldn’t sleep properly, I couldn’t concentrate on anything that anyone was saying to me. The battle to finish the novel seemed to fill my whole universe. It was no longer just a question of putting up with a whimpering dog. I felt as though I were beating something to death, as if I had got hold of the end of a stick and this thing – whatever it was – was trying to crawl up the stick and bite my hand. I kept hitting it against the wall until it was nothing but a mess of fur and blood but it kept coming and it wasn’t even content with my hand now; it wanted my throat.

I told my friend this. She pointed out, perhaps a little whimsically, that in Jungian terms I was both the man with the stick and the nightmarish rat. ‘So if I’m the rat, why am I causing myself so much trouble?’ I demanded. ‘Because the rat doesn’t want to die,’ she replied. ‘It’s struggling desperately to reveal that it was always something else.’

Well now I have written the very last sentence and it seems to me that only one question remains: did the rat succeed in transforming itself at the last moment? Unfortunately, or fortunately (I’m not sure which), that’s not for me to answer. It’s a judgement that only the reader can make.


Anonymous said...

I didn't realise that writing was such a bloody, brutal business! Every time you finish a book do you kill another rat, or do different books manifest in different (metaphorical) forms?

Tara Flynn

Brian Keaney said...

No, it's not always a rat. Sometimes it's this other creature that doesn't exist except in my dreams (where I am always encountering it.) It's long and vaguely reptillian but it's body and head are triangular. It hides amid the undergrowth and moves very rapidly along the ground; its bite is terrifying.