I’m giving my clients writing exercises this week. One of them says, ‘When do you do your daily writing?’ I stop. I stutter slightly, because it’s such an odd question to my ears. ‘In the morning,’ I say. ‘Often first thing. And then after a cup of coffee and something to eat I settle down at my desk. And then in the afternoons, when I have time between clients. And then in the evenings, often.’
There’s never a time when I’m not writing. Writing is like breathing in and out for me. If you told me there was a day I couldn’t write, I wouldn’t know what to do.
One of the exercises I give my students is to set the timer for ten minutes and just go. Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t ponder, don’t pause. I confess I don’t do those kind of writing exercises any more, and I’m going to try it now, in the spirit of never asking anyone else to do what you wouldn’t do yourself.
I think of the world gone mad and what the president was doing at that rally with all the people and all the shouting and all the strange sentences which were English and yet not quite English. I think of the billions and billions of pounds squandered on obscure contracts. (I’ve been so cross about that, and so impotent, and so confused. I don’t wade into politics on social media because everyone gets furious and there are snide remarks from strangers and people tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about and I can’t say Oh just bugger off because my mother brought me up to be polite. So I keep scrolling past the £12 billion on Test and Trace WHICH DOES NOT WORK and the £3 billion unaccounted for and telling myself I have to take a deep breath and carry on.) I think of China, where the coronacrisis all started, and New Zealand, which currently has something like seven cases. I think of how it has connected the world and how it has fractured the world.
I think of the people who couldn’t say goodbye to their parents. Every day on Twitter, I see someone say, a complete stranger I shall never meet, ‘I could not say goodbye to my dad.’ I see a version of, ‘Thank you for your kind wishes’ or ‘I’ll be off here for a while’ or ‘It turns out she didn’t have much time left after all’. All these griefs. They are expressed in such quiet words; a few short sentences for a broken heart, a grieving spirit, a heavy mind. Your life changes forever when your father dies, and there isn’t much you can say about it in sentences. But people do, every day, because of they want to mark their loss somehow, to make it real, to pay homage, to let other strangers tell them they are not alone.
And that’s the end of my ten minutes. The bell goes, and I look up, as if from a dream. That’s crazy writing. It’s hard not to think, but it’s liberating too. I’d like to make that exercise more visceral, more Jack Kerouac-ish, more wild. I might do it again tomorrow.