Should you find yourself brave enough to open the cupboards in my home office, you might also be buried alive under a cascade of notebooks. All kinds: small spiral bound ones with thick blue lines, big ones with watercolour paper, medium sized ones with graph paper. My favourite is an A3 unlined Moleskine. Oh, the ideas I had in store for that notebook!
The thing is, not one of them has more than a few pages of notes and ideas inside. They are “could have” notebooks. There is a notebook for the first book I never wrote. There is a notebook for the first business plan I never finished. There is a notebook for poetry that could be finished but might not be (who knows with poetry?). Each time I set out to achieve something, I bought a new notebook for it, as if the notebook itself contained the magic I needed to follow through.
But of course, it doesn’t. I know that. I knew it even more profoundly each time I did go and buy a new notebook. I knew it when the people around me started to say “Anna has a new idea – must be time for a new notebook!” And I especially knew it after I saw photos of the writing spaces of some of the world’s – and history’s – greatest literary minds. They weren’t all minimalist, with IKEA desks. They weren’t all rich with mahogany and many copper drawer handles. Most of them weren’t even clean. Look at Maggie Gee’s room! (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/mar/14/writers-room-maggie-gee) All these writers seemed to need was a space to throw their paper / laptop and a bit of time. I know writers who do some of their best work sitting on commuter trains. I know writers who sit at the kitchen table without even clearing the night’s dishes. The magic of their writing doesn’t come from their notebook or their desk, it comes from – god help us all – hard work.
I am a chronic writers’ blockee. I relish in the writers’ block. I pace the length of my office and scribble notes on my whiteboard (these things were designed to help me write, after all) and watch “encore presentations” of Masterchef. I do these things for hours, telling myself that I’d be better off not trying to force it, that I won’t write anything worth reading if it comes out of pushing through the writers’ block, as though it is a physical blockade with me on one side and perfect, astounding prose on the other. When people call and ask me how writing is going (and by people, I mostly mean my dad, who is a man completely unfazed by where he sits when it’s time to write) I tell them that I’m in the midst of Writing Blockades and Road Closures but don’t worry, I’m doing some other things to take my mind off it so that I can write more later.
What I hope will happen is that I’ll come back to the page (or screen) once my head has cleared (as it will do, completely, leaving only space for genius) and throw all the words down in exactly the right order and only look at them again if I want to congratulate myself for them. I am afraid of second drafts. I am even more afraid of third drafts. Writing has, for so long, been an emotional outlet for me that there are no second drafts. How can the spirit of the occasion be anything other than the way I felt it in the first iteration? That’s the one that comes from the place where I first felt it. Sometimes I literally meditate through writing sessions, feeling as though I am actually back there. The words are so carefully placed that sometimes I can’t go back again.
That’s not good enough. What happens then is that I sit on this side of the blockade and shout across the witches hats to the finished product on the other side, but never see it. I buy a new notebook. I write “Anna’s book” at the top like I’m ten and then I fill it with exactly nothing, because I am still blocked. Because the blockage doesn’t come from the wrong notebook or the messy desk or the fact that I don’t have a view of rolling hills and vineyards through French doors in my country villa. It comes from my fear that when I write it, it will be wrong, and I won’t know how to fix it.
The notebooks are my blockade. They have to go.