When I’m Breathing
‘So…. How many novels have you actually written?’ A work colleague asks.
‘Three of the novellas for my series, they’re pretty short, about 45k words. The novels though, are about 130k words, and I’ve done a couple of them as well. Plus I have two others about the 50k marks, they’re longer ones, and another book series I’m starting that’s at the 30k mark.’ Running the numbers of my current projects through my head tells me it’s still not enough.
He actually sits on those numbers for a moment before responding. ‘Wow. I can’t imagine sitting down to write fifty thousand words. Let alone 140!’
‘Yeah, it’s a lot, I’m pretty pleased with it.’ I’m not. It doesn’t seem like much at all, and there is still so much to do that isn’t about writing.
‘I don’t even know how you find the time to do that.’
And for a moment I don’t know how to respond.
I can’t describe the ease it takes to find my place in a story, stick on the head phones and punch word after word hour after hour, forgetting the total as the story wraps itself around my thoughts. There is the greatest freedom feeling the wind on your face the sway under your feet as your imagination takes you further than the stars, to new worlds where the infinite is tangible. Dipping your hands into the waters of creativity and drinking deep, slacking a thirst you never knew you had.
Stirrings of ideas grow and flourish inside, and they come pouring out, a fountain of unstoppable colours, thoughts, and feelings, and unable to contain the flow you decant it down in words. It takes time but you pull them all together, string them like glass beads on the thinnest of strands until you make something whole. Something beautiful.
Telling someone what you have done, and the frequent congratulations that devolves into uncaring incomprehension. Their inability to see what you have created doesn’t matter so much, you just need to get better with your expression and design.
I think about them all the time, all of the stories, as I’m walking to the shops, talking to my pets, doing the laundry, working in the real world. They are my constant companions, the voices in the dark, they are my bravery, and telling them my deepest desire.
Reminding myself that this is just the beginning and there is still so much to come, as I bite my tongue against the mockery for spending so much time on something that isn’t real, as though vindication of my work’s value must come from someone who’s never read a book.
Those people add flaws to characters I have yet to create, and the first impressions of them only hint at what they will become in spite of those failings. Some I recognise in myself even as I describe completely different people, who hide themselves in the shadow of my stories. In other cases they are as clear as the glass windows of my car as I drive home, working out how they will face this chapter’s challenge.
I’m the antagonist wishing to leave the dinner table so I can plot my protagonist’s demise, knowing as soon as I sit down after a long day’s work I will have to slice open my soul and cut the pieces of emotion out I need to articulate this arc of my character’s journey. To put aside what I feel, from warmth and love to sink into despair and hopelessness of my character’s suffering. Or on darker days, to pull myself from this ravine of desperation and find the light of joy, giving it to the pages of my passion.
As I turn up the music and sink myself into the turmoil of indecision and uncertainty they face, I, as their creator, have no time to dither on such emotions, though they hover about me, as though a plague. I go to bed, tasting their sadness and unspoken words, unstoppable sorrow eating a hole in me my husband has no idea how to stop.
Maybe tomorrow we can watch a movie instead, except where am I supposed to find the time when I get up and continue the façade that I am here and a functioning member of society who’s perfectly normal. And I watch it go by from the inside grieving over the time I am not punching ideas into my phone’s reminder, writing down plot twists during my lunch break, pulling over by the side of the road when traffic is awful and crying while trying to remember an escaping facet of the narrative.
I’ve forgotten I needed to be somewhere this weekend, so I can’t edit that piece. I don’t have the funds to upgrade the website because I need to pay the credit card bill used for advertising. Somewhere in all this I need to find the headspace for myself, to take my estranged spouse out, to play some computer games with him. And then I berate myself that I shouldn’t have spent so much time on that when I forget the passing hours. Or avoid the guilt by stating I’m letting off steam, there has to be a moment I can let go. But if there is then I should use it to read for a while, except I feel disconnected as I critique the writing, or worse, suffer through anxiety I am not as good as this writer. Why am I trying?
The dread that I am as awful as that two star review I received, and I’m burning myself up on a fruitless endeavour, even when it’s the only thing that makes the harshness of life bearable. The stories surround me and some days I don’t know if they are strangling me or holding me together. When the loving words of my husband can’t crack through the shell of self doubt, even as he is screaming them at me, with the quietest of whispers, that one day I will make it.
‘I write a lot in my spare time.’ I answer my work colleague.
My spare time is when I’m breathing.