Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Writing: Activity or Passivity?

I’m busy these days. After a relatively inactive bit of my life between last year’s and this year’s Edinburgh Festivals, I’ve suddenly got a lot of projects on the go – some of which I initiated myself; others of which have unaccountably come hurtling in my direction. I like being busy. If I weren’t busy, I’d be lazy, which is another way of saying I’m bad at organizing my time. One of my hypocrisies is that I admire people who manage to cram lots into their day, but I very seldom get annoyed with myself when I fail to get things done. Sleep is as good a waste of time as any other, and I enjoy that – but I’ve even gone so far as to congratulate myself when I’ve succeeded in pissing away an entire weekend in front of the telly.

The only time I get frustrated with myself is when I don’t have enough energy to do everything I want to do. Occasionally it’s occurred to me that I should take more exercise, eat more healthily, drink less, in order to raise my energy levels generally. But you and I both know that’s not going to happen. The fact is this: you always find energy to do the things you enjoy the most, just as your stomach always finds room for dessert after a heavy meal. My annoyance at myself for feeling tired is far more to do with the fact that it means I’ve been doing the wrong things. Uninspiring jobs, even the simplest ones that don’t require any effort, leave me exhausted. By contrast, give me a good film to watch, or an impro show that dares to express its own uniqueness, and I begin bouncing around and talking too fast, even though I’ve just been sat in my chair for an hour and a half. I don't need bags of excess energy in order to enjoy a good rehearsal or improvabout.

What about the sedentary activity of writing? Does writing energise me? Not always. But by thinking about it in terms of energy levels, I have learned that there are two types of writing. Most of what I write, on this blog, or in my Diary, in the White Notebooks, or elsewhere, is about stuff. The stuff happens, or I think it, and then I see it as a useful duty to write it all up, to fix it in place. I put off this kind of writing. I fall behind in it, then have to put extra time aside to catch up on it, which I resent, because it prevents me from doing the things and thinking the stuff I like best. This kind of writing wears me out, and becomes tedious. But every so often, once I get started with pen or keyboard, once I overcome the sense of it being a chore, the fear of the blank page and the chains of purpose and meaning, writing becomes active. The task of keeping a record gives way to the creative business of making stories. And I speak here of the microscopic dramas that play out within the syntax and semantics of a sentence as well as the big narratives that I vainly seek to impose upon my prose (behaving as if I were the author of language itself rather than a bit-part actor making the most of the few brief lines I have be assigned). Writing can and should be an activity, not a passivity, one that’s as energizing and as delightfully purposeless as swimming. What matters is not what gets written and what doesn’t, but freedom, wonder and involvement.

I should definitely try to put more time aside for swimming. But when? I'm so busy. Yawn.

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