In particular, this post by Kirsty Logan “Art is not hard” (coal mining, she very rightly reminds us, is hard job, writing – not so much).
I’ve been thinking about this post a lot. I grew up in a coal mining village, in a coal mining family. My father, grandfather, several uncles, neighbours – they all went down the mines and did a job which is punishing, unpleasant and badly paid. I would rather write for a living than go down the pit.
But like the majority of writers I know I do not write for a living. We write as well as holding down at least one other job (generally, nevertheless, not coal mining) and often raising children at the same time. When you’re in that situation, writing eats into the time that could otherwise be ‘me’ time – time that could otherwise be spent having a bath, getting some sleep, watching the television, reading a book. But you allow that to happen – you make that happen – even if you are physically or emotionally drained, because you are working towards something, you are creating something.
In my Metazen Interview this summer I described writing a novel as like building a house: “It has depth and height and layers and elements you can’t see but that have to be there to make water come out of the tap and the fridge stay cold enough to chill the wine…Drafts and foundations, plans and frameworks and structure and aesthetics and furniture and layers and layers of everything. It’s exhausting. But when it’s done people will just say – Nice house, Claire.”
But on reflection, a house is not the metaphor I’m aiming for. I want to create something that will make people catch their breath. Evoke an emotional response. Something like a cathedral. And with writing as with architecture, having that vision is not enough. You have to decide to build it, with all the application and sacrifice that entails.
I do think that writing should be hard. That you should push yourself to make it the best you can, or else why bother? Not just writing in fact. Life. I am reminded of a quote from Matt Taylor, an architect, designer, inventor, teacher, facilitator, sailor and entrepreneur who inspires me.
“You cannot have uncommon results by common means. Nature does not allow it. Only the too socialized believe they can have excellence and their comfort. Only the dull confuse the tools of building with the act of building. The insecure wants his rules. Only a coward wants control. Life must be lived, not managed.
Blinded by fear and ambition and stale used up rules, we battle our way through embittered days. We take all the joy out of our work. We succumb to accountancy. And, we destroy our lives and our planet. Heartless, joyless we become killers. We kill the Human Spirit, and in doing so, kill everything else.
… To build is to reveal your soul. To build is to engage, to act, to touch, to love. If you want a Cathedral you have to be a Cathedral builder. You have to stand in bright light and be counted. You cannot hide in mists of mediocrity and safety – of normalcy. You cannot accept limits, yours or anybody’s, as mandated, given, immutable…
A Cathedral is not ordinary and it cannot be had by ordinary means. I have one question to ask of you: Why? Why would you ever build anything less than a Cathedral?”
Someone recently said to me “…yes you don’t have any heating in your house yet, but you live in France and you have a lovely husband and lovely children and work that you enjoy and now you’ve written a book and just imagine soon you could be a published author. You’re so lucky.”
I felt, at that moment, that they had walked into my half-built cathedral and were admiring its beauty, while I’m still aching a little from the effort of hoiking lumps of stone about and thinking it would be good to get a roof on sometime soon.