writing is what i do and what i’ve done almost every day for over forty years. i write myself out of holes (and sometimes into them). i write for myself and to transcend the self.
i also write to be read. i wrote a book, i am here. i’m currently writing another, about not being here, that is : death and dying — and i’d like to write a third : about why we might be here, so a trilogy of sorts.
i’ve had a kind of blog/online journal almost since the beginning of
time the internet and i’ve written for the guardian, tincture, mumsnet, art monthly and edited an issue of m-c (with anna poletti) on doubt — as well as the inevitable catalogue essays and conference papers that are the by-product of the working life of a so-called academic — a life which is now, thankfully, behind me.
if i have any advice about writing it would be : try to discover why you write : what is it for? and write every day, at least 500 words, but without it becoming a chore. practise allowing the words unfold, to become a flow, because they will gain their own momentum, enable the words to find their way to you — and in this way it is not so different to reading.
and at some point : think about whether you’d like someone else to read what you’ve written. and the answer is yes, then a whole other trajectory opens up.
like reading, writing can be therapeutic.
writing, being able to write, has always been important to me and it is because of this more than anything, that i think of what i do as being a writer — but i also consider writing a craft and a practice and it can have a therapeutic effect.
when you are struggling with something sometimes it can be useful to put ‘the thing’ into words. when you write those words it becomes an object and it has a tangibility that is missing when you put something into words by talking to someone — not that this can’t be useful but apart from anything else, writing is a process of thinking, feeling, associating and reflecting all in one, and you can do it alone.
a therapeutic writing exercise
some people like exercises! so for you : if you’re struggling with a particular ‘thing’, try this :
write five hundred words
use a word processor which shows you a live update of the number of words you have written. write five hundred words about ‘the thing’. don’t worry about knowing how or what you’re going to write about ‘the thing’. don’t stop to read back what you’ve written until the counter says at least ‘500’. no need to stop at 500 if you get in the groove! but five hundred is a good number because it is a substantial piece of writing, but not an overwhelming number of words. also remember that you’re not writing this for any other audience but yourself. if what you write is boring you are only boring yourself.
now read them though. is there one word that jumps out at you?
for example i had written about a ‘thing’ that had happened and that i was struggling with and the word that jumped out at me was ‘befallen’ which is not a word i use every day. i realised it was like something had fallen on top of me. it took away my ability to breath, my ability to move, to be. and it was almost literally like something really heavy was weighing me down and i was trying to struggle free from underneath it.
does that word remind you of or make you think of another word?
it made me think of a dutch word, which is quite different but has a similar flavour: ‘tegenspoed’ which i heard joost zwagerman say in an interview in a documentary about him on TV the other day. ‘tegenspoed’ is perhaps best translated as ‘adversity’ but it has elements of ‘decay’ and ‘hardship’ too. in old english movies people sometimes wish each other ‘godspeed!’ when they set out on a journey - and the root of the dutch word ‘spoed’ is the same and ‘tegen’ means against.
a single word — or two — can help you, if not accept what has befallen you, give you a different way of thinking through a ‘thing’. in the case of tegenspoed, what the word had to say to me was : it is no wonder you are resisting! if it is like something with its own momentum is going against you, if you didn’t resist you might be swept away!