Did you hear Thomas Keneally this morning on Desert Island Discs? He was magnificent. He didn’t mention MATs (multiple avoidance – of writing – techniques), but he talked about the most stultifying thing for a writer: FEAR. He said, I can’t quote him exactly because you can’t listen again to Desert Island Discs, but here’s the sense of what he said:
The fear that haunts all writers is the fear that they can’t write.
So that’s what sends me into all my MAT-activity frenzies then. He also said that writing is a drug, a spirit to which writers are addicted. He said that real writers HAVE to write. And sometimes, he said, the writing does deliver on its spiritual promise. (It’s true. I know that I’m a miserable old bag if I’m not writing, and I also know that sometimes my writing does reach what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls ’emotional truth’.)
Keneally was eloquent about subject matter too. He said that love across racial or spiritual divides makes for a good novel and that the best stories are those in which love flourishes where once there was hate. And, of course, that human imperfection is essential to the novel.
I agree. I agree. I agree. I just wish I could cut down on my MAT-activity-fuelled fear that I can’t write. (The only way I know how to do that, by the way, is to write. There is no other cure.) Today my MAT-activity has consisted of putting on a load of washing that could have waited for more; making and then unmaking a bed (don’t ask); looking at pages for the website for my first novel; eating; making cups of tea (Clive James, in North Face of Soho writes that if anyone could see him writing, they would see a man pointlessly making a cup of tea and then, in a desultory fashion, pointlessly changing his mind and making a cup of coffee. But I’m not drinking coffee at the moment); and then remembering that it’s Sunday and I hardly ever write on a Sunday. (To give myself a day off from my MAT-activity, you understand.)
But Keneally was an inspiration. As is Adichie. So tomorrow it’s back to the drawing board under which I shall find my writing boots, pull them on and get writing. I promise I will.