This is a thankless job.
It is tedious, this writing, this filling of paper with blank, empty words, night after night, week after week, and sometimes even longer. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to gnash your teeth in fury, that makes you want to rip dry wood into a million pieces, tear paper infinitesimally small and hurl the pieces out the window; that stirs in your heart exactly the same kind of emotion as the squeak of chalk on heartless blackboard, the crook of a picture on an unfeeling wall.
Words are not the easiest of beasts to tame, not the simplest of creatures to capture; even to the very end, they will resist you, kicking and biting and screaming the vengeful insults of animals placed among strange, unfamiliar beings, and loathing it terribly. Their tears are the notes of a discordant symphony: of sentence mixed with sentence indiscriminately, with no care for rhyme or reason, tone or structure; and to mangle a paragraph is to invite scars upon a bruised heart, stains upon a scarred soul.
And writing? Writing is full of it: broken, ruined words that slur on the tongue and leave behind a filthy taste; dull, unimaginative sentences, piled one upon the other, worthless junk on the isles of memory; hastily written constructions, poorly defined characters. Sifting through the cracks, the flaws, the fallacies, and building from the remnants, all the while the gleam of yet more mistakes, errors and inglorious phrases unmistakeable amongst the rest – it is like watching a tower given no concrete, no base, no ground, rising and, improbably, implausibly, continuing to stand, though only just. It is like knowing that that selfsame tower is crude, is roughly hewn at the edges, knowing that the slightest weight of scrutiny would topple it over – it is like knowing that you have erected a horrible, gaping monstrosity across the land, a mish-mash of stones cobbled hurriedly together, with not the semblance of elegance to disguise them further, and knowing that you must still perfect it yet, if ever you wish to be satisfied.
Perhaps it would be acceptable privation if one could write with a sort of carefree abandon, a kind of dreamless trance, that would leave no memory of time passing or the pain endured therein. But this is impossible: man was not meant for words, but words for men instead, and to trace unto paper the lifeblood of worlds, separated from reality only by that cruel vixen we term imagination, is not breathing, or blinking, or sleeping. It allows none of the ease that nature brings, none of the peace that instinct claims, that surrender to forces other than your own. You must play with words, encourage and coax them together, knowing full well you are unequipped to do this: you must abandon reason and venture deep into the darkest, most depraved corners of all humanity if you wish to make them tame, wrestling with confusion, grappling with uncertainty, murkiness, all those shadows that rob conviction of its purpose, purpose of its conviction. Your most profound fears will leap at you, will gnaw you to the bone; hatred will seize you, bid you walk to the nearest cliff and die; self-loathing and disgust will haunt your nightmares, will leave tracks in your dreams. If you wish to write and know full well the savage warmth of a beauty well chained, you will stare at the broken carcass upon your page – and weep, for massacring beauty beyond all recognition.
Writing is hell.
Writing is torture.
Writing is God’s definition of agony.
But it must be done. Not because of single-minded desire, not because of a wish to please a reader – but because writing is cleansing. Writing is freeing. Writing is letting inhibitions clatter to the floor as so much armour, of letting the bonfire in your heart blaze brighter than the sun, consuming forest and forest and earth. It is setting loose an injured sparrow miraculously healed, it is lifting fog and grey dust from the world, marvelling anew at the colours that gambol within. It is giving birth to a species that till yesterday never knew light, bringing shape to a man born limbless: of breathing hope and ambition into a city of a teeming thousand, raw emotion in the face of an infant on paper. Writing is playing God blessedly free of all constraints, of dictating rules within the rules, laws upon the laws, of the pure, unbridled joy of things bending to your will, relishing all the while control over that which cannot be controlled.
Nothing in the world can match to the ecstasy of building worlds in your head: all the things that fate otherwise would have skipped over are now yours to chart onto the lives of others, free to graft into the destiny of an unknown child. The horror, the terror, the sheer agony of ripping to shreds a work of incontestable art – these come afterwards, after the light of illumination, after the unbidden joy that springs as you carve your spirit onto paper, after the sizzling warmth of a new idea has faded away. Gone are all the rules of the universe, damned that they exist, all the boundaries of the world dust and crumbling at your touch: almost at once, it is you now suddenly involved in a frenzied, feverish race to commit the flood of words tumbling from your thoughts, onto paper, a torrent of phrase and verse and delightful jibe, an ocean of inspiration glittering majestically in the sunlight, one leading on to the other.
Later – much later – you will look at the paper, exhausted and tired, your steady stream of wit and humour now ebbing, and you will cringe at the mess that awaits you there. Spread before you will be the scattered fruits of your manic frenzy: the work of the next few days, replacing, cutting, checking each word for spelling, grammar, tone and consistency. You will envision before you days and weeks of cleaning up, hours of racking confusion, indecision over where to put that one perfect word, how to cut and edit your sentences till they resemble something close to acceptability.
And you will lose sleep over this. You will hate yourself for sacrificing a sentence you particularly loved, revile yourself for ruining the flow of the work. At night, your words will come back to haunt you, as dead soldiers come to leer at their imprisoned master. You will worry, and fret, and lose weight over the marked imperfection manifest in your work. You will doubt yourself as you near your goal, call yourself a coward, a traitor to the noble art of writing. You will compare yourself to the greats, and writhe with naked embarrassment at the triviality of your own masterpiece. You will go through pain, and suffering worse than Sisyphus’, torture more terrible than Atlas’: a fate more daunting than worth accepting, to any man but you.
You will do all this despite the hurt, despite the doubt, in spite of fear and the threat of moral cowardice. You will lock yourself up, isolated from mankind, for at least an hour every day, pruning your work to grim perfection. The pain you will ignore, the agony you will endure; and when people come up to you, and ask how you managed to do all this, once your masterpiece is done, once it shines before the world, how you managed to live through those years of toiling away, you will smile, and reply the only honest truth ever spoken in the world:
Perhaps the pain was worth it.