The remains of my many childhood journals are in various stages of decomposition in landfills in at least four different countries. I have preserved very little, and what I have kept I cannot bear to read. Nor for the most part can I make out the handwriting or the knotted thoughts I was trying to unpick underneath the writing. As an adult, if I take pen to paper, it’s generally in response to some other symptom that can only be sweated out, purged in whatever metaphoric fever I find myself fighting. Some may call this inspiration.
The thought of leaving out a journal that could be read, (judged, really) – childish scrawls, ideas shallow and new, shocking punctuation et al caused me to panic-rip pages and dispose of them immediately. My subconscious regrettably came to some sort of conclusion that I wrote in order to be read and therefore all my words had to be read-y.
It’s embarrassing to think about now. As though every sentence I wrote began with a shot from the muses’ well, as though folk would be interested in again, the diaries of a _child_, whatever success I would go on to have in later life. Is it any less self-indulgent than your average aspiring writer? Perhaps even on-the-nose considering my particular poison is poetry. Thankfully, this writing-to-be-read feeling didn’t last. If it did, I doubt it would have ever moved beyond a feeling.
It took me ten years to publish my first poetry collection and I have a blog that averages one post per quarter on a good year. This is hardly the behaviour of a rational person who primarily writes to be read. Having actually experienced the pleasure of having my work published and read – even taught (!) I can confirm whilst thrilling, it was not the motivation behind the work. It’s clear now that wanting to publish a book so other people can read it, is like wanting to get married just to have a wedding. To abuse this metaphor further, I find that just like a dress that may not fit years later, there is a stylistic statute of limitation on a piece of work too. This is likely the main reason I will always write. To hear what I sound like, on the outside. It is not elegant or inspiring and is hardly less self-absorbed – but I feel a little bit better that it doesn’t presume perfection, or even an audience.
For years I would chide myself for not being prolific enough. Being a part of a spoken word community helped maintain the habit on a good day, and produced bad poetry on a bad one. I would often grasp at whatever was happening in my life at that time, ram it into the shape of a poem so I could show up on a stage and prove I had something to say, which is in itself the quickest way to say absolutely nothing. Then I would edit it within an inch of its life and find the thing that caused the poem in the first place. Sometimes, several years later. (This is why I have a particular distaste for poems that are forced to rhyme. A natural rhyme is wonderful, a forced one conjures images of a baby straining against a swaddle – parents are told it is the natural order of things, contrary to the wailing evidence in front of them.)
I also loved the extra-curriculars afforded to a writer. Reading feels like a side-hustle, participating in literary events, long conversations dissecting books, performing my work, workshopping with other writers, writing reviews and generally having a space to talk about all the parts of life we have collectively dog-earred. This also serves as a brilliant distraction from writing, and when I grew sick of reading the same poems out loud over and over again, it eventually became the fastest one-way ticket to imposter syndrome.
It’s been a couple years since my first book came out. I have made some big swings in my personal life, shed miles of skin – real, metaphorical, other – and needed to lie down a lot. I am no longer a part of a wonderful spoken word community as this is now on the other side of the world. The pandemic has meant that my goodbyes here sort of petered out, no dramatic farewell, just life that had to be gotten on with.
The pressure to write is gone. The good kind is always within reach, but I am glad to let go of the bad kind, which would often detract from the point of it all. Some of this has to do with having scratched that childhood itch. I wrote a book, people have read it, some have even liked it, but the dream wasn’t the book. The dream was to keep writing.
I do not regret the journals I have thrown out. The words I have deleted. Poems that start in the shower or as I am falling asleep that never get written. The times I have forgotten my notebook, or a pen, or simply forgot to think about it. I am no longer desperate to only archive the things that make me look best, because writing is a true thing, and the process is the point. I do not feel guilty when life gets in the way. In fact, for my kind of writing, life HAS TO get in the way. Just living is passive writing. In many ways I don’t ever stop. In my head, on social media, when I tell stories or write emails. So perhaps, what I am really trying to say is that writing is the way I know true things. This is how I know there will be another book. A truer book, to reflect the next writer I am, and the next, and the next.