Saturday, July 13, 2013

What do writers need? Drive!

I mentioned in my last post the accident I had in London, three weeks ago now, when I tripped along a kerb and smashed my face and was concussed. It's all healing now, and (apart from my lost front tooth) there doesn't seem to be too much permanent damage. Two of the three stitches in my lip remain (although I was told they'd dissolve after a week) and whether they'll leave a scar remains to be seen, but it won't be much. I picked myself up pretty quickly, I think, and was soon bobbing out to my reading group, on the train to see relatives, and, as I reported in my last post, to the Edge Hill award ceremony, and to an evening at the Whitworth Gallery for the start of the Manchester International Festival. However, I probably tried to bounce back too soon. It's all caught up with me since, and I've spent the past week - a week when suddenly I had no outside commitments - doing not much besides sleep. That's probably only right - recovery mode - but for that week, and for the first time in my life, I didn't want to write. Well, that's not quite true: I did want to write; I went on having ideas for writing and I went on wanting, though in a vague, dreamy sort of way, to get those ideas down on paper, but somehow I'd lost the drive, the urge that makes you pin yourself to the desk, and your thoughts to the idea and the phrases and words, in order to do it. It was easier, less stressful, to pick up a book and go back to bed to read, and after a chapter or so, nod off to sleep... I didn't like it, not having the drive, and not having produced anything, but only in a regretful resigned kind of way...

It's the first time this has ever happened to me. Even when I had just had babies and was obsessed with them and physically floored, I never lost my will to write; on the contrary, I felt an extreme, almost physical frustration at not being able to do so. And it's only by losing it temporarily that I have recognised the manic and focussed intensity of that urge.

It has really made me think. I suppose, when I've been asked what qualities I think a writer needs, I've often mentioned a will to succeed, but what I was thinking of then was a more practical kind of will: hard work, application, determination, and also I guess a belief in yourself (which I believe it's possible to talk yourself into), in order not to be knocked back by rejection. But I never really appreciated that you also need a more primitive psychological drive, something much less within your control, a reflex of the brain or maybe personality. And I think my accident may have given me a new insight. I think I may understand something I've never really understood before: why some people with real writing talent just don't bother, or try a bit and then don't do it in the end. It's not that they're necessarily lazy, or lack commitment or fibre or any of those seemingly remediable things (as I've always, I confess, secretly thought); is it, rather, that they simply don't have that absolutely necessary drive?

14 comments:

Rachel Fenton said...

I didn't have the drive before I had my children. It's interesting that you lost it, and worrying, but I'm glad you've got it back now, and that you're rested and raring to go.

Elizabeth Baines said...

I can understand that, Rachel, from my own frustration when I had new babies: not being able to write because of exterior circumstances reasons really focusses for you whether or not you really do want to do it, and can make you driven to do it when you can.

Creaky door writer said...

Thanks for that really interesting insight - I love to read other writers' reflections on what drives them. I absolutely agree there is a kind of restless, relentless drive that makes us interpret the world in this way, and if this is strong enough, it will get us through the rejection, lack of time and lapses in self belief. I guess the temporary loss of that drive was your body and mind telling you that recovery had to come first. I do hope you are feeling better now.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Many thanks - yes, I'm on the road back to it all now. Very interested to know that you agree re restless drive.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hello E - you poor thing. I am very sorry to hear about the fall. If its any consolation, I did exactly the same thing in Stockholm, smashing my nose up, and had to travel home covered in stitches and bruises. I also found it knocked me metaphorically - I lost confidence for a while. I guess that loss of confidence can hit in different ways, and creative confidence is so important. I hope it comes back very soon. Mine didnt last long. Love Vx

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, I remember you did that, V! Awful, isn't it? For the first few days I looked like a duck-billed platypus, then as the swelling went down, more like a trout! It does knock your confidence. I'm constantly looking at the ground for potholes and if I see a jagged edge of concrete or a sharp-edged kerb I inwardly wince.... It's not so much loss of confidence confidence with the writing as a loss of will, but I'm really glad to say it's right back now - very scary when I thought it mightn't. Thanks for your wishes...

adele said...

Gosh, I had no idea...I'm so sorry to hear about this fall. Horrible and I am glad you're recovering. I hope all gets better very quickly, including the drive. Take care of yourself!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Thanks, Adele. I do hope things are on an even keel for you and Norm now... x

nillunasserstelter.com said...

So sorry to hear you fell. Sounds awful but glad you are recovering well. Maybe a rest was just what your b it ody needed.

Like Rachel it was having kids that made me realise how much I wanted and needed having kids. Completely agree that without an urge to write, dreaming about it never becomes a reality. Writing to me is like a drug. Addictive. If I am unable to write for a few days the urge grows, but it seems to peak then disappear if i dont get back in the saddle. It's been a busy few days with the kids and your post was exactly what i needed to hear to get started again. Thank you x

nillunasserstelter.com said...

So sorry about typos. Rocking baby while typing!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Really glad you feel ready for the saddle again! That's a good way of putting it, that's it's like a drug - and you can get withdrawal symptoms.

Adrian Slatcher said...

To respond to a different point, you've hit on something important here, about "drive". Finding the time is what we do for the things we love, or enjoy, for hobbies, to fill time etc. but there's an intensity about writing which requires a level of commitment I think: probably the difference (in Open week) between a professional golfer and a good amateur. The latter wants to get better, enjoys the game, the former has bet the farm on the game. I sometimes wonder whether not having "bet the farm" it means I lack some of that drive - though think its a balancing of possibilities: writing another novel would take two years of my life, and no guarantees. A middle way I think is possible; but in the little time I do have, I do try and give my all: its almost physical as you know (and I'm exhausted after writing) but also the mental strength is probably the greater. Recovering myself these last few weeks from an op, I've not had the mental strength even as the physical constraints have eased. Like you, it makes me feel uncomfortable not wanting to/or being able to be creative; so there is a physical need - and that's yet to go away.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Adrian, I don't think not betting the farm on it means you lack drive - as you say, we are restricted by the possibilities. If there's anything you've proved it is that you DO have the drive, to keep writing the way you do in the face of those restrictions.

I do wish you well with your recovery. From my recent experience I'd say that the loss of mental strength is part of the healing process - and it does return!

Adrian Slatcher said...

Thanks Elizabeth, I guess I was trying to say that drive comes in different ways, to keep at it, to complete something, but also to do it well. We all have to negotiate that balance I think. Catch up soon