18 April 2004
Who was it, what writer, who said ĎNot a day without a lineí? Some man, Val suggests, with a support-system in place, wife or servants or both: someone, at least, who never had to worry about doing the laundry or taking the cat to the vet. If I googled, I would know. But actually my gripe with him runs the other way. As a prescription for the writing life, never to let a day pass without at least writing something, itís among the best advice around; impossible to follow, I think, without that support-system above mentioned, but good to aim at none the less. The problem is that Ďa lineí is actually not very much work at all, and this quotation gives us licence to quit. When things are bad, you make that first engagement with the work, fire up the computer or sharpen the pencil, straighten the pad, have a quick early stab at a sentence - and then the first awful existential angst of the day rises up, or else itís the smell from that bin-bag in the kitchen, and either way you are now allowed to cry Ďthatís a line, Iíve tried, Iíve done my duty to St Francis de Sales [patron saint of writers, due to his habit of leafleting the good news, rather than preaching in the public square; I like to think of him as a singularly shy evangelist], itís okay to give up now.í If only heíd said Ďnot a day without a pageí, or even Ďnot a day without a thousand wordsí, the world would be a far better place by now, or at least more full of books. Many of them by me.
Specifically, Iím thinking about Thursday. Misha was in hospital, I was phoning anxiously (and the only nice thing the whole day was the nurses brightened up as soon as I mentioned which cat I was asking after; you could hear their sudden smiles. Sheís like that), and I wrote a sentence and a half. All day. Itís a lovely sentence, and the half ainít bad either, but at that rate it would take me years to finish this book, and many of them. Iíve got six weeks.
Misha came home, though she is still not mended. They did all the standard tests, and they all came back normal (hah! as if any cat of mine could be normal...), but her little heart is still going thumpety-thumpety at a rate not good for cats, and they donít know why. Nor do they know why her pupils are so dilated, so now theyíre doing specialist tests (see, told you, normal just doesnít cut the mustard) before they even think of putting her under anaesthetic. Personally I have no faith in special tests either, weíve been this way before with her and with Sophie too, and never had answers. In the meantime, though, she is home, and I am being absurdly sentimental; and I wish I could say that she is treating me with the contempt that I so richly deserve, but actually she laps it up. None of that cat-who-walks-by-herself nonsense, why would she want to do that when she can be cuddled and adored?
And I am getting back to work, more or less, but much of the impetus has gone. A couple of weeks back I was being dragged along in the novelís wake, couldnít write fast enough to suit it, didnít want to be interrupted, didnít want to go out. Now Iím doing the driving. Even when I can match the page-count at the end of a day, it still doesnít feel the same. I go to bed with no confidence for tomorrow, because itís dependent on my willpower, and we know how weak that is. With luck, the bookíll take over again - but ah, how often am I lucky?
© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.