I say, to one of my writing clients, ‘How about thinking of your writing as a refuge, not a chore? Try and play with that idea.’
I always say things like ‘play with that idea’. I loathe giving people rules and prescriptions. I want them to play. I always think the most creative creature on the planet is a three-year-old child with a paint pot. Children of that age play when they create, and that’s why there is a magnificence in their art. I hate that grown-ups have been taught, somewhere along the line, that it’s all got to be work. You’ve got to suffer for your art. You’ve got to do your ten thousand hours. You’ve got to pay your dues. You’ve got to work at it, dammit.
You’ve got to look serious and tortured and agonised, because Nietzsche was, or Hemingway was, or Byron was. (Those black dogs, always snapping at their heels.)
I think that’s all bullshit. Writing shouldn’t be agony. It should be play. Editing, now that is hard. It can feel like someone is sticking pins in your shoulders. (That is my sixteenth draft feeling.) But even so, it’s not working down a mine.
I’m playing now. I have absolutely no idea what I’m writing about or why I’m writing this or what I want to tell you. Maybe I’d just like to record this moment, so it is not lost. I’d like to remember the singing green of the trees outside my window, with the Scottish sun dappling on the leaves. I’d like to recall that I had a conversation with a friend in Australia about feeling crappy and the importance of the small things and the death of King George VI. (Those are the conversations I love. I love that we can go from the ordinary human experience of feeling a bit blah to the memory of the sombre crowds who waited for four hours to file past the King’s coffin as it lay in state.)
I’m playing because I have words, and that is a gift. I love that I have the English language. I love that I can type at seventy words a minute. (I get an absurd satisfaction that my fingers know exactly where to go. I don’t have to tell them. They hum with sense memory.)
I’m playing because I can and because not everything has to be tortured and serious and because not every idea has to be big and meaningful. Whimsy and inconsequence are lovely things too. Who cares if I don’t really know what I’m saying or why I am saying it? How about the simple joy of doing something just for the sake of doing it?
Stanley the Manly is sleeping on the sofa and my small world has suddenly fallen very quiet. I have not looked at the internet yet today, so I have no idea what is happening out in the real world. It’s just me and the green leaves and the silence and the contented lurchers and these words. I’ve got two hours until my next client and that is writing time, and I am seeing that time not as work time or chore time or get on with it time, but as a luxury. I’m just starting out on the first draft of a new secret project. I always love to have a secret project. There will be editing over the weekend, the hard graft that must be done to bring an old manuscript up to scratch. That will not be play. But this is, and I am going to plunge into it as if I were a little kid painting purple dinosaurs. Because, in a way, that’s the point of the whole thing.