Christmas tree reflections on wet streets

I write in my notebook every day. This is the bedrock of my writing practice. It’s where I work things out. For years, this has meant coffee at a Caffè Nero, and 30–60 minutes with pen, paper, and Twitter. This is writing as therapy, where I clear my tubes of gunk, note what’s on my mind, and pay attention to dreams, fantasies and feelings. Twitter is intrinsic to this, because it’s where I fish for images, ideas and quotes, like flicking through an endless magazine for data about my unconscious state. Before I get on with the day, I curate my stream. I’m always editing. It’s a bit of a curse. Twitter has become a rather soulful game, where I can express my enjoyment of a cup of coffee, say good morning to distant mutuals, acknowledge unexpected sadnesses, celebrate successes, and (un)knowingly repeat patterns.

Things get murkier when a piece of writing requires more than five minutes of thought. This is where the editing curse is worst. Of course, the end game of the editing curse is complete censorship, which is writer’s block. I post longer pieces about writing, my life, films and books on my website. My writing perfectionism doesn’t afflict me so badly in non-fiction—when a thing is clearly expressed, it is done.

Stories are another matter. There is no perfectly expressed story. I don’t publish stories on my website. I pretend Twitter isn’t publishing, but of course it is. I learned early in my tweeting life that once a line is published, it’s dead. Some essential energy is gone and I lose interest. I develop stories in digital tools offline, like Word, or Ulysses, but sustaining my attention on writing a story has been impossible this year.

Hold on, strong emotions incoming. Deep breath. I’m fed up of writing about how I (don’t) write. I’m fed up of the self-imposed pressure. My anxiety has crushed the fun out of both reading and writing. Twitter is neither. What if I’ve been going about my creative writing practice all wrong? Have I just been rationalising my addiction to effectively an online social game? God, on the one hand I wish I took my writing more seriously, and yet that inner editor, that censor, is deadly serious.

When I wrote The Complex, I had several MA deadlines and a publishing deadline to keep me on track. My editor believed in me. I was invested in the idea of becoming a published novelist. My desire for validation made me drop everything and push writing into every gap in my calendar. The emotional mathematics was in favour of writing—the belief that it was worth the effort was greater than the belief it was not.

I’m not saying that was a healthy way to write. I definitely need to lighten up. In 2022, on a deep level, writing new material wasn’t a priority, and perhaps that’s correct. My life has been rich enough without it. But I am curious. Going into the new year I’m going to do some gentle excavation into my beliefs about writing, because I’m realising I’ve lost touch with what fiction means to me. If there’s no meaning, there’s no purpose.