Monday Motivation: Mud beneath our feet, stars above
Here’s a thought to brighten the new year. It was recorded in a file I call “Raw Materials” – bits and bobs that I squirrel away in the hopes that they might provide me with ideas for these pieces.
For the most part, sadly, they don’t. I open a document and puzzle over a note I made to myself months or even years ago that makes no sense at all now, or an article copied from the New York Times or the Guardian or the London Review of Books. I must have saved it for a reason – but that reason now escapes me, and with a sigh I close the file and continue my search.
Today I came across something written by John Banville shortly after the publication of his Booker prize winning novel, The Sea.
“Writing a novel should be like swimming, but it’s not,” he says, “it’s like wading through wet sand, at night, in a storm, with no lantern to guide one’s steps and no lighthouse to warn of the submerged reefs and wrecks that lie ahead.”
Well, yes. There are moments that every writer will recognise that resemble nothing so much as slogging through knee-deep mud, when every word feels like a struggle, and the completion of every sentence like a triumph. Non-writers believe that writing’s a doddle. Many idly boast of the stories they could write if ever they bothered.
But we know, like John Banville, that writing’s hard.
But it’s not just a slog. it’s also filled with moments of illumination, when you stumble on a sequence of words, and perhaps a sequence of thoughts, that you didn’t know you were capable of.
When we read through pages you wrote a while ago, you’ll recognise these apparently inspired bits. They might consist of no more than a phrase, perhaps; or a sentence. They might, if you’re lucky, be a link in a long chain of inspiration.
Writing, I believe, is both: hard and occasionally exhilarating; calling on your muse but also on your capacity for hard thinking and hard work. We wade through mud, at night, in a storm, without a map or a guide as Banville says – but we also sometimes feel ourselves bathed in the celestial light of revelation.