So how can I not write?

I saw an interesting comment the other day where a writer said that when a man produces a great many works in a short time, he’s called prolific – in essence, he is admired for it – but when a woman produces such epic volumes, she is ‘churning them out’. This likely could be referring to the long ago days (though scarily, not as long ago as we think) when women often had to change their very names to be published. But still, it got me thinking.

Do I churn, a word that suggests a lack of care? Am I prolific? Am I the machine I’m often called? Whatever term you use, I certainly write a lot. I saw many an author friend struggle with their creative ability in lockdown, facing the empty screen, tormented by writers’ block. I felt bad that, for me, it still freely flowed. I was tempted not to share my progress when others found it difficult, but then I decided that maybe chronicling my word count might work as inspiration, be helpful in some way. I wrote two novels and a memoir during those dark days. How? Because writing isn’t just writing for me. There is so much more to it than that and this morning – on my riverside walk where so many ideas and plot themes and lines have come to me over the years – I started thinking about that. Really thinking about it. You should too. Here’s what I realised.

Writing is the one place in the world I can be absolutely vulnerable. I know that a few reviewers have said how emotional my stories can be, how I tap into pain and tragedy and life, how I create layered and sensitive characters. One blogger said that I delve below the surface to shine a light on qualities people fail to see, and smash through stigma, ethical dilemmas and cultural norms, with compassion.’ If I do any of these things – and I really hope so, that would be marvellous – then it’s because I write how I can’t be. I rarely let my guard down in real life. I’ll be the one smiling, making sure everyone else is OK, but you’re not likely to see me truly opening up. You might think I do, because I’m a chatterbox, but that’s about two percent of the truth. If you want my truth, you’ll find it in my fiction. On the page. Aspects of my experience and personality and thoughts colour every word. But isn’t that the case for all of us?

So I’m not churning – or even prolific – I’m exploring, releasing, processing. And there was a hell of a lot of that to do during a worldwide pandemic, in abject isolation, with both of my children far away. This is not say that writing isn’t work. It is. It demands a lot of me. And I’m a self-critical perfectionist too. But writing is also the companion I’ve had since I was eight. And now – I realised on my windswept, rainy walk – writing is my mother. I think it always was. It listens to me when I need to vent. It considers my feelings and lets me turn them into something greater than me, something others might find comfort in. It pats my head when I do well, and insists I work harder when I need to do better. It’s there. Always. So how can I not write?

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