My poor old threadbare keyboard has officially retired. It was in a sorry state; half the keys had lost their paint, worn away through years of constant use. For the send-off I took a photo and put it up on Facebook. ‘Writer’s keyboard’ was the caption.
I was prompted to expand. When I counted up, I’d written rather a lot: two books, four novellas, several short stories, plus all the incidental stuff like blog posts, letters, and emails. A friend commented that writing must bring me a lot of joy.
Well that got me thinking. Joy was not the word I would have chosen.
Compulsion, frustration, nostalgia, despair, irritation, achievement, hope. Highs and lows and everything in between. That is what I feel as I stare at my computer screen, that infuriating rectangle of light. Night after night, my brain battles to convert thin-air imaginings into coherent sentences. Inspiration comes. The keys click in staccato and the acid on my fingertips erodes the letters away.
Why do we write?
What can be gained from hours of sitting and pondering and pulling at your hair?
For me it started with reading. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the look and feel and smell of books. And, of course, the stories they contained.
My mother tells me that I couldn’t wait to start primary school. In my young mind, the sole purpose of school was to learn how to read. When I came home after the first day in Miss Wadley’s grade one classroom, I raced to the bookshelf, opened one of my mother’s novels and then burst into tears.
‘What’s the matter?’ Mum said.
‘I’ve been at school all day long. And I still can’t read!’
Reading morphed into the desire to write. As I soon found out, wanting to write and actually doing it are two different things.
Wanting to write is easy. It’s a daydream, a fantasy. Picture yourself sipping wine by the fireplace or gazing over a blue ocean while perfect prose flows onto the page.
Being a writer is hard. Like any other gainful pursuit, be it art or craft or profession, writing requires practice if you want to be any good. Practice means you do it. Every single day. It’s a discipline, the same as brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. It doesn’t matter if you write for ten minutes or four hours, just write something.
When you are in practice, the words will come easily. Your word count will grow; your work-in-progress will inch towards completion.
One day you’ll look back and count all the stories you’ve written. Some might be published. Some might remain forever in the ‘bottom drawer’ of your computer. Some might still be brewing in your imagination.
You’ll take a photo of a worn-out keyboard to put up on Facebook and you’ll smile.
Yes, writing does bring a lot of joy.