I have a confession to make. It’s time to come clean about something I didn’t know I was guilty of until recently. Let me set the scene. I had just pulled myself out a bath that was probably a little too hot to be healthy. My skin is on fire, my t-shirt slightly moist and clinging to me from yanking it on too quickly over my damp skin. I am in bed, the black sheets are a perfect background to get lost in when I read. Above me is a string of blue lights that satisfy the blue tinge I crave. There’s another light on my bedside table that I usually only use at night but I’m currently using all the time because the main light bulb blew and I keep forgetting to buy a new one. I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing and a revelation is occurring. I am stunned by this book because the more I read of it, the further I delve into the inner workings of Stephen King’s mind, the more I realise how much he likes writing. There I am, bathed in blue, reading Stephen King profess his undying love for writing, written in a multitude of ways, repeated over and over again, and I’m shocked. “He actually enjoys writing,” I think. Like, really enjoys writing. Lives, breathes and eats that shit. Should that be such a shock? A prolific writer actually enjoys writing? Well, it was to me, and I’ll explain why.
I recently realised, after this Stephen King revelation, that I have written one thing on this blog that isn’t wholeheartedly true. This half lie sits boldly amongst my first blog post, and it reads (with the previous sentence included for context): “I have toyed with the idea of starting a blog for a long time, simply because, writing is my thing. Not only is it my thing but I love doing it”. I love doing it. I love writing. It feels alien writing “I love writing” because there is so much conflict between those words. Let me be clear here, I do love writing, in theory, sort of. Like anything, I love the idea more than I love the actual practice of sitting down and essentially handcuffing myself to my laptop until I manage to produce a slither of something that is kind of alright, or in most instances, pages of words that I consider complete shit. I’m trying to remember if I have always been like this. Was writing always this hard? Because for as long as I can remember, I have always written. There hasn’t really been a time when I wasn’t producing something. Recently, writing has felt like crawling through treacle on my hands and knees. It has pushed me to wonder whether writing, the thing I have wanted to do my whole life, is something I actually enjoy doing or whether I am just good at it?
I don’t trust my memory. I am incredibly forgetful about things that matter and manage to remember the most trivial things that don’t. I know I’m not alone in this. That being said, I am sure that there have been instances when I have loved writing. My favourite moment of creativity is when I get the first initial idea of something really great, and I get to flesh out all the little details in my mind. Writing the first chapter of an idea for a novel is something I love to sink my teeth into. Poetry that flows out of my sleepy, achy head with ease. A spontaneous photograph that sets itself and all I have to do is press a button. I love this. The trouble sets in when something becomes routine. My problem with authority doesn’t waver when it comes to my own brain telling my body it has to do something. My inner instinct is: if something isn’t pleasurable, don’t do it. I spend every day battling my asshole of an inner instinct. I know that I’m never going to get anywhere if I just do the pleasurable parts of the creative process, I have to take action and make myself do things, otherwise, I’ll be dreaming for eternity.
In times of stress, when I have a blog post to write, an article to finish and a short story on my mind, I find myself doing literally anything other than writing. Suddenly baking an eight strand Challah bread becomes really important. This is when I wonder whether my passion should be this hard. Should I really dislike writing to the point of thinking that washing up is the more enjoyable option when I’m faced with the task of doing one or the other? Am I lying to myself if, up to my elbows in bleach with a white mask restricting my breathing while I de-mould my flat (why does every flat in London have a freak out in Winter?) I’m still thinking, “at least I don’t have to finish that short story” whilst simultaneously claiming to love writing? Then again, it isn’t only writing, I find most of my passions that I really care about, really fucking hard.
Photography is, at times, my nemesis. I truly believe that everyone has a passion that is their greatest love and their arch-enemy all at once. My boyfriend’s is his music. He is an excessively talented person in pretty much everything he does (apart from sports, sorry Harv) but his “main” talent and day job is graphic design and illustration, something that he does with relative ease every day (he did the amazing illustration for this blog post, for example). He is also a talented musician, but it’s his music that is his Jekyll and Hyde. It’s something that isn’t so easy, that matters more because it’s what his heart really wants. If he spends a day working on his music and it goes wrong, he falls apart. It’s not as easy to pick himself up and carry on than it is if an image doesn’t go to plan. I know exactly how he feels. While I have issues with writing, even when my brain is fighting a losing battle with my fingers, I can write with more ease than I can create a picture. Hours of shooting that don’t produce the results I want will leave me feeling like a failure, like none of my previous successful photographs matter and I’m discouraged from trying again for the foreseeable future. A lot of the time I can’t even muster up the energy to shoot my ideas because I know there’s a large chance they won’t turn out the way that I want them to look in my head. I feel huge lethargy even when I’m doing it. With anything, practice is the key to success, so this mindset is only shooting myself in the foot, repeatedly, at close range, Yet, I can’t break it, and when asked what I enjoy doing, I always speak of my love for photography, even though at the moment, I can barely stomach doing it.
During periods of intense creative-block, I am lucky enough to be able to ring up my brother who, whilst completely disciplined with his writing, tells me that a lot of the time he doesn’t particularly like writing, but likes having written. I recently asked him, in a moment of panic, whether any famous writers struggle this much with writing and he replied “yeah, loads. Some know that they’re good at it and do it, regardless of whether they like it or not and others openly dislike the act of writing, but find that there’s a pull inside of them and they know that their purpose in life is to put words on a blank page”. Following this conversation, I googled “writers that don’t like writing” and was met with an abundance of articles that consisted of writers talking about the sometimes fruitless, joyless, practice of writing. One that particularly made me feel like I wasn’t alone was this one. The article is peppered with writers that enjoy writing, but that didn’t matter. There were people like me, who have still become successful regardless of their occasional, or in some cases, constant hatred of the craft. I can boil down the reasons I have a love/hate relationship with my passions to a surprisingly coherent list; they require an attention span of more than ten seconds, they require a huge amount of energy and, they matter to me. I’m a perfectionist, and I know that I would probably really like writing if I was happy with the first thing that I produced. Actually, I might even be happy after a second draft. But it’s the gruelling research, the first draft, the second, the third, the fourth, sometimes the fifth and that’s just for a blog post. Most of the time, even after that much rewriting, I’m still not happy. The fact I have rewritten this blog post about seven times is, of course, dripping with irony.
Writing and photography are my passions, but we have one of those turbulent, sole consuming relationships that are hard to maintain. There is no feeling like creating a photograph that I’m proud of, or writing a story that goes to plan, paired with the right amount of effort to make me feel like what I’ve created wasn’t a complete fluke, but the result of pure genius, I’m joking, hard work. I will also always love the first inception of an idea and running away with it my mind, writing in-depth character descriptions and neverending freewrites. These are the highs. The swinging lows that come with those highs are long, hard and gruelling but I push on with the hope that one day, the lows won’t be so often and so cuttingly painful. On the other hand, if they never become easier, I can always wear the badge of troubled creative boldly with the knowledge that nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
Illustration by Harvey Dormer ©