Tuesday, 6 January 2009

What The Barber Said

Whenever I go to get my hair cut the barber always asks the same question: ‘Not working today?’

‘I’m always working,’ I tell him, ‘even when I’m not’

He smiles and nods, because he knows what I mean. He can’t leave the shop even if he doesn’t have any customers. He has to remain hopeful. And it’s the same with writing. You have to keep at it even if your mind is a blank page. This is something that always hits me with particular force immediately after Christmas.

Getting back into a novel after a significant break is never easy. The world in which you believed so passionately has faded into sepia. You find it hard to understand how this tissue of implausibilities could have kept you awake at night, could have made you talk to yourself like a madman as you walked down the street, oblivious to the gaze of passers-by. Should you give the whole thing up and start again, you wonder? But maybe you won’t be able to start again. Maybe this is as good as it gets.

There’s a rhythm to the process of writing, a pattern of involvement and disengagement, a smaller cycle that take place during the day and a larger one that takes place over the course of weeks, months and years. Yet whenever you’re in one of these periods of disengagement it always feels like falling out of love, as if you are never going to be whole and happy again.

You stand almost naked before a wintry lake, ice clutching at its edges and force yourself to put a toe in the water. It’s bitterly cold and you withdraw again in alarm. But, stubbornly, you decide it’s got be worth another try. And this time the shock is not so great. In fact, it’s bracing. You take a deep breath and plunge in, flailing about clumsily at first midway between exhilaration and terror. But in time you regain your poise and begin to enjoy yourself. This is what you do, you remember. This is who you are.

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