Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Wednesday, 29 December 2010


I'm finally ready to finish.

Nobody understands why it has taken me so long to write a book. My family don't understand, my friends don't understand, my ex didn't understand, and one of my closest friends certainly hasn't got a clue what is going on, and her increasingly frustrated messages to me now begin and end with "are you done yet?" and "where the hell is it?" Not for Helen a bohemian waft of my hand and a mumble about inspiration: she's extremely successful, extremely hard nosed and "not interested in anymore of your stupid shillyshallying, Smale. Finish it. Do I make myself clear? How hard can it bloody be? When you worked with me I couldn't get you to stop writing fiction when you were supposed to be writing press releases." And, if she's extremely irritated by my flower-in-the-hair-responses, she brings out the big guns, which are either: "My aunt has written and published three books in the time it has taken you to write one," or (the one that hurts the most) "You realise that you're no longer eligible for any young writers awards now anyway?"

As the friend who probably understands me the best, though, she's right. I have been shillyshallying. Shillyshallying, in fact, is exactly what I've been doing: shillyshallying with all my might. Because the truth is: it's not hard. Since I started writing the novel, I have written over 300,000 words of this blog: enough for four full-size pieces of fiction. If I sit down and try hard, I can easily write 6,000-8,000 words a day, which means that I could write a novel in two weeks, with space to edit at the end. And it hasn't taken me two weeks. It's taken me nearly two years, which - considering I wrote the first six chapters over the Christmas weekend of 2008 - isn't very impressive. I even managed to fit in a great deal of chocolate eating, a couple of black and white films, a pub session and about 32 cigarettes on that particular two day writing stint, and I still managed to pull something together coherent enough to interest an agent.

The truth is simply this: I haven't wanted to finish. It's like a smoker who wants to quit smoking (and I can say this with some authority): no matter how many times you try to quit, it won't work if you secretly don't actually want to. For whatever reason - because you think it's cool, because it calms nerves, because it tastes nice, because it reminds you of being young or of better times or of not caring about the lines around your mouth because you don't have any yet - you can throw your cigarettes away as many times as you like, but if the desire not to quit isn't actually there, you'll simply replace them the next day. For me, it was only when I woke up a few months ago, ran my tongue around my mouth and realised I had no interest in ever smoking a cigarette again that I actually stopped smoking (and haven't touched one since: the desire has simply gone).

It's like that with writing. It hasn't mattered how many times I've told people I'm ready to finish The Novel: I haven't actually wanted to. Secretly, deep down, I wanted to keep it going. And not for just one reason: for a million different reasons, and all of them powerful ones. Because I love writing it, the way I love reading a book I love, and so by slowing it down it delays the pleasure and chews it up into bite sized pieces I can eat whenever I'm hungry and sad. Because it's comforting to me, and something to think about. Because when I'm lonely - which is often - it becomes my best friend (I'm aware of how terrible this sounds). Because it gives my life meaning, and I've not been sure what to do when it's over. Because I drive home from school to a flat that isn't empty, because my book is sitting on the computer, waiting for me. Because everything I do is a procrastination away from it, which sort of gives my life a heavy structural feeling, which I have learnt to depend on. Because while I'm still writing it, I'm not just a teacher; I'm a writer who teaches. And I don't want to be just a teacher. Because it gives me a reason to stay where I am, without feeling like I'm opting out on life. Because I'm writing.

And because I'm terrified of my life without it, and I'm terrified of what will happen if it's not good enough.

Which is it in a nutshell, and the people who love me know it. The book isn't finished because I'm scared of finishing it, not because I can't finish it. I'm scared of not writing, or having something to write, and I'm scared of being alone, and I'm scared of having no direction, and I'm scared of failing. In essence, I am doing with this goddamn novel what I do in relationships: refuse to commit, refuse to throw myself into it wholeheartedly, because I'm scared of what will happen if it doesn't work out. And because I don't want to have either everything or nothing, so I'm sitting in limbo where I can have both (and neither).

It's finally time. I'm 20,000 words from the end (four days, if I concentrate), and I'm bored. Not of the story, thankfully (because that wouldn't bode well), but of my own fear. And of the procrastination which is born of it. I'm bored of being a teacher-stroke-writer in a little flat in Japan because I'm too scared to finish the book and either be a writer-stroke-teacher or just a teacher. I'm bored of dancing around the ending, of glancing at the manuscript from my bed and hopping around it: not because I don't know what to write, but because I know exactly what to write and I have done from the start but I don't want it to be over. I'm bored of putting the ending off so that there is still something in my life that I can control: when and how I finish. And I'm bored of not moving onto the next step because I'm frightened of where it will take me. I'm bored of being frightened of the things I love most, and of all the things I love most, writing is what I love the most. It always has been.

I'm bored. It's 2011 in three days, and I'm ready. I will be back at home from my little holiday on the 2nd of January, and I am not moving out of my flat for any reason until it's finished. And then I'm taking whatever the next step is. Wherever it takes me. Even if it's a bad one. Even if it's scary.

Because at least then I'll be going somewhere.