The Outbox

I love the scene in Jaws when Quint straps himself into the chair. The line clicks on the spool. Blue water laps at the side of the boat. Somewhere out there swims the biggest fish of all. And that, folks, is how I see myself – strapped into the chair, waiting for a tug on the line. Except I’m fishing for words. The blank page is like the blue water, deep and impenetrable. Sometimes I can sit for hours with nothing more that a minnow, a sprat. Not even a glimpse of the real monster, lurking out there. The chair becomes an object of torture, a kind of purgatory that takes all my focus to stay in it. My brain feels leaden, drained by the burden of so much waiting. Then a glimmer, a flicker. I sit forward and hover before the keys of my laptop. The tension mounts. I feel a sentence turn belly up in the sunshine and there before my eyes the sentence becomes a paragraph, a page. Words. Shoals of them, coming my way. Hallelujah! I’m in business again …

You don’t have to feel good to write. In fact, feeling restless and unfulfilled is probably as good a starting point as any. The muse comes to us all in different ways. Most writers have a pathological fear of beginnings. I don’t mean opening paragraphs, I mean settling down to begin work in the first place! Writing is a lonely business, but why bother when there’s washing-up to be done, kitchen units to be painted, dogs to be walked and any number of miscellaneous distractions to undermine the word count. William Faulkner said ‘The writer’s only responsibility is to his art.’ Well, that’s me excused from all domestic duties for the next ten years. Wonderful, if I didn’t live alone. But wait – I have a contingency plan. If I leave the front and back window open, the breeze will blow through and save me the job of hoovering. To be a writer, you need tunnel vision. The washing-up can wait …

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