Another drop in the lake
Writer’s block, imposter’s syndrome, and ruby-hilted swords.
I look at my hands, and I do not write.
I lay in bed, and I curl up on the floor in front of my mirror. I sit on the 370, and I buy plaster mermaids with starfish in their hair.
Still, I do not write.
I sit with my feet tucked under my thighs and I think, no one will read this, and I think, this has been said before. It has all always been said before. With better words. By writers like Nizami Ganjavi and R. K. Narayan and Edith Wharton.
There was a time when writing was easy, when I spent hours on end at my desk typing up stories of sun-flooded valleys, ruby-hilted swords, and war-torn glades. There was a time when my prose spread light; but now I press my fingers against my mirror and there is no candle and nothing to reflect it. I never questioned whether I was the right person to write a story, whether I was good enough, whether I cared about who would read it, if anyone did at all. Plot holes would fill themselves up with time, loose threads would bind together like shivering hands. Though most of those pieces are now lost to me, I remember how I would begin describing a place and immerse myself in it, revisiting that feeling of wonder, until I became completely inseparable from fiction.
Now, getting words out is hard.
In his 1962 essay ‘The Poet and the City,’ W. H. Auden wrote that the best thing a poet could do was get involved with some craft, with something that does not involve the manipulation of words. So I draw wings and windows and flannel flowers. Thursdays after tutorials are for pottery lessons. I sculpt little bowls and pine trees, and spheres to hold down loose paper. I take the bus to Centennial Park and paint fairy stools and wooden arches, but I can never get the colours right. And during this pursuit of diversion I, at the very least, think about what I want to write.
Often I worry about all the time that I waste thinking. But the act of doing nothing is in itself exhausting. I am stuck, standing behind a closed door, with far more feeling than range and time. On some days, this unshakeable fatigue bleeds into other aspects of my life, and there is nothing I can do but sit on my balcony and watch the wind move the leaves of my neighbour’s arrowhead plants.
Dominican novelist Jean Rhys believed that all of writing is a huge lake. “There are great rivers that feed the lake, like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky,” she said, “and there are mere trickles, like Jean Rhys.” But all that matters is feeding the lake, and keeping it alive. I might be stagnant at the present moment, unable to do anything but look at my hands and wish for rapid movement across my butterfly keyboard. I might worry about empty words like ‘nuance’ and ‘innovative’ now, but someday I will realise all writing comes in response to those that have come before us.
Yet, as I hold that hope close to my chest like a child holding a teddy bear, I know I will never again be free of the weight of uncertainty. I’ve been staring at this document for nine weeks now, and it still remains unfinished. No more words come to mind, only cliches. I don’t want to think too much about the irony of this, lest I succumb to it and stop being able to get words out again.
As a child, writing was always an escape. I wrote to get away from the claws inside my mind, created worlds to step into lands untouched by affliction. But as I grow into myself, and into meagre hopes of a successful career in publishing, my relationship with my craft changes still. It morphes from a safe fantasy into a large part of my identity and survival.
Nowadays, writing for myself consists of pouring over manuscripts I started at ages fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. I always thought I wanted to tell a very specific kind of story, but I haven’t bothered writing it in four years now. All I have is a document that hasn’t been edited since 17 July 2018 and a growing list of excuses I tell myself count as writing.
The only solace is the image of Jean Rhys’ lake, and the few droplets in it I get to assign my name to.