I’ve got to write.
But I don’t.
It feels like the most important part of who I am.
But I do it less than anything else.
Frankly, I write less than the time I spend on the toilet. And it should be noted that I don’t hang about in there. I write less than the time I spend waiting in dank woods for wounded pheasants to fall from the sky so that my dog can make a fist of retrieving them. I write less than the time I spend in school governor meetings, haranguing the children to practise the piano, or buying plants. I certainly write less than the time I spend posting pictures of hedgerows on Instagram.
Writing feels like a calling. When I was in the deepest throes of charismatic Christianity I was prophesied over at the front of a conference hall. The prophet said, ‘You are to write out what you see,’ over and over, while I stood with arms outstretched like the angel of the north, groaning, before lying on the floor on my back, my body jolting with involuntary pulses. When I was 13 I started reading Dickens because we didn’t have a television, and wrote a 9-page essay on Great Expectations, which my teacher branded ‘a real tour de force’, in lieu of actually reading it. I wrote the first draft of a novel. It took years. I built my work pattern around it, working 4 weeks and taking the fifth off, celebrating in Jamie’s Italian when I finished the draft, and soliciting the comment, ‘this is a great story and your intelligence is obvious’ from a well-known writer. If you can do a bunch of things, she said, this will be quite brilliant. I didn’t read the rest of her feedback. When I was on a retreat in Scotland I met my friend’s mum in a small house in Bo’ness. ‘So you’re the writer,’ she said, and even though I wasn’t by any evident measure, I thought yes. Yes I am. I joined a cut-throat workshop in Cambridge with ten women and me, critiquing each others’ writing, enduring the monthly butchery, sharing the brimming ambition, chiselling away at the book chapter by chapter.
And then I stopped. We stepped westward – a wildish destiny – to create a new life in the country. We bought a huge Georgian house with hardly any door handles. We decorated, and made a kitchen garden out the back. We bought a dog. I made a resolution to attend the local pub more, which led to more involvement in the community, as a newspaper editor, a school governor, a volunteer at the Parish church. I took the dog to a local pheasant shoot and became a picker up.
And all the while wrote not a word.
I’m grateful for every nanosecond of every moment with my wife, and boys. For every inch of soggy window pane in the house and every autumn fruiting raspberry in the garden. For being able to work at home. For this genuine, earthy community and the steep, small foothills of Exmoor. I know that there are people everywhere who would love to have this life.
And yet I’m doing nothing to serve my deepest ambition.
The prophet said do not write because you can, but because you must.
I’m not a breakdown kind of guy, even as I hurtle horrifically fast through my forties. But if I was, this would be it. I would set fire to all I have for the lack of the one missing jewel. Leave the ninety-nine sheep behind and leap the dry stone wall.
And yet I haven’t written a thing.
No excuse stands up. An old friend remarked, off-hand, ‘you’ve got the desire but not the will’. Which almost made sense, if I could unpick the dualism of the two. It didn’t help, but made more sense than any other diagnosis.
How to get will?
Just do it?
Because I must.
So on this gloomy September day, with no warmth from the sun but not enough chill to put on the heating, I find myself bored with work, a near-permanent state, staring out of the wet window, and googling life coaches in the area. Over the summer holidays I failed to secure an interview for a corporate job which would have been a big professional leap, with a car and bonus and ridiculous pension, despite spending days on preparatory work and tests for the application. Failure feels horrible inside, but I also know that success would have been the end of any room in my life to pick up the pen again, with longer hours and more travel and stress, to become something that I never wanted to be, except to feed my children.
Maybe it was a lucky miss.
Maybe my will has awakened.
And I don’t need a life coach. I had better coaching in a few weekends in my thirties than most people get in their lifetimes. I know what I need.
I need deadlines.
I need other people.
I need to write.
So I’m starting this blog. It’s for no one but me. It’s a place to write, absolutely anything. I’m not going to clear time for writing by cancelling other commitments. I’m going to write first, and push the other things out of the way one by one. This blog will be my cuckoo baby, fed up until the other chicks have been forced out of the nest.
For deadlines and other people, I need a writing group. The key to overcoming procrastination, of which I am a certified master (procrastinating that is, rather than overcoming), is to identify what the next single action is, and to do it. Instead of life coaches I will google writing groups, and visit a bookshop in Taunton where I believe the owner might know. I will also share this post with some people who will think of all sorts of cleverer ways to proceed than I can.
It is time.