12 January 2005
Another thing about funerals, they donít half take it out of you. Got home late afternoon yesterday, and it would have been a very good time to shrug off the day if I could, and do some work. Displacement activity, and all that. But I thought a cup of tea and a slice of cake would be nice first (you do get some odd footstuffs, at funeral teas: I did nibble, in that endless spirit of gastronautical adventure that you-all admire so much, but you couldnít exactly say that I was replete), and I startled myself by dozing off over the Oolong. At five in the afternoon, for crying out loud - how middle-aged can you get? And then I just sat there for the rest of the evening, all wrung out like a flu victim. Emotional exhaustion, I guess youíd have to call it. Shattered by sadness.
Back at work again today, though. Itís an odd one; Iíve got three weeks left till the deadline, and I still canít work out if Iím going to make it or miss it by a mile. You couldnít call it a labour of love, but I am being scrupulously thorough, which means that the process can be really, really slow. I take the extant draft to the pub to read through and scribble on, as has been my habit for lo, this many a long year; and ordinarily Iíd reckon on thirty pages to the pint, more or less. This one is chugging along at about ten pages to the pint. And I canít stay longer for extra pints to make up the shortfall, ícos I stop making sense after half a dozen.
Then I take the scribbled pages to the computer, decipher the scribbles - which usually just mean Ďthis is no good, take another look at ití - and try to produce a better version. And that too is going very, very slowly; and I canít just stay longer at the computer, because that too just exhausts me and I stop making sense. I think what it is, itís a confidence thing. As a writer, I have a pronounced authorial voice, that combination of style and vocabulary and personal tics that proclaims ĎChaz was hereí in every sentence; and Iíve been doing this job for so long itís utterly ingrained by now, and I trust it completely. And now Iíve been told it isnít working; but as soon as you challenge that, itís like a golferís swing or a cricketerís sense of timing, itís built on confidence and habit, and the whole thing crumbles at a touch. So now every phrase, every word is up for grabs and I distrust every one.
People mock me for being ludicrously indecisive; I think the truth is that my decision-organ is just permanently knackered, through making thousands of decisions a day, this word or that word, this order or that, what rhythm to the sentence, where the punctuation, is this really what I want to say...?
Thing is, in English there are always options, there are always half a dozen ways to say anything. Writing well is about finding the right one, again and again and again, every clause in every sentence. Nitpicking over this sentence or that is fine, we do that all the time, every time I read a page I fiddle with it; but cast a general aura of doubt over an entire book and all those choices unravel, suddenly nothing is fixed or firm or certain. Itís like someoneís cut the string, and all the beads have spilled. Which means that piecing it back together again is an exercise in mosaic (if I may scandalously mix my metaphors), which is wholly different from the process of creation, and wholly unnerving. Sorry if Iím going on about this; Iíve done major rewrites before, of course, but never quite at this fundamental level, and I really have no confidence at all. Can these bones live? Truly, I do not know.
© Chaz Brenchley 2005
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.