On Striving

I started Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before, and this symbolic 'island' in New Mexico seemed oddly fitting, both with that book and my mood

I have been thinking a lot recently about what propels my writing forward.

I wrote the first few drafts of my first book as part of a PhD thesis, and had the double-edged luxury of submission targets and cutting, excellent critical feedback.  I had my hand held in other words, though I didn’t fully realise that at the time. Finding myself on the other side of a completed work was a strange, engulfing sensation. It took a while for me to come to terms with the fact that I would have to write the book again in order to transform it into a novel that a readership could engage with, and that I would have to do this more or less on my own.


Going into The Millenial, the second novel I’m currently working on, I had some idea of the scale of things.  Some, I say, because there is always the power of delusion shielding me somewhat from the immensity of the task. A part of my brain set aside to think, you know, this first draft is doing really well for itself. Overriding the critical faculties so that I could get the writing and plotting down on the page.  What, with this book, is driving me onwards?


Partially, the desire to transmute my way of seeing the world into something that truly speaks to individual readers. Some sort of calling to assuage , for both myself and my imagined reader, the mutual loneliness extant between the object or subject, and the individual’s sensation of each, and the mind aware that it has no immediate perception, sensing a lack, a loss in translation. A need not just to attempt to translate, but to acknowledge limits, reshape, take power over. I think a lot of writers have that motivation, and I’m sure many theorist have explained this need and practice of communicating more clearly than I have.

But the biggest thing I have come to realise, is that I have a need to strive towards something. I have to point some blame at target setting in education there. First you do well on this exam, then you need to apply to University, then you need to do well in University essays, exams, pass first year to get to second year, tick these boxes and you graduate. There is a palpable sense of grief when you are ejected from that world. No more knowing exactly how well you are doing. No more voice from the wings, or applause from the galleries. This is different from the realities of work, in which there are still targets, overseen by a boss. Get this done. Put this here. Not like that, I ‘d prefer if you did this. Art is more like going for a walk on a beach. You can get to the end of the shore, to the mouth of the estuary that feeds landsilt to the sea, but then what? The sense of space is bracing, clarifying.  You can’t sit on the beach in Autumn all day. Art is like this. Your choices are your own and they need to be made, even if later you will regret not taking your shoes off to dip your toes.


From now on, I’m trying a little experiment. Striving still, of course (can’t go cold turkey after all) but for the next while, I want to write for the joy of the craft. For spontaneity, complexity. To write my heart into this thing so I can feel it beating, one day, when it is done.



The name of this road is Bliss Happens Lane, and it’s in Maryland, close to Ocean City. I visited on a surprise birthday trip last year. Life is full of flickering moments, and I intend to pay attention from now on.




Filed under consolations of writing, The Millenial, The Now, Theory

4 responses to “On Striving

  1. Oh dear, I read your first paragraph and felt like you were reading my mind. I finished 300 pages of what I’d call the 2nd good draft of my book for my Masters Thesis. A year ago! It’s been a struggle to dig back in now that I’m not (a) in school, and (b) have no deadlines. It’s a whole different deal out here on my own….

    • Find yourself impetus that isn’t stressful, and stick to that to get you through. I think we all need scraps of paper with stern and loving advice on them, something like that for the toughest days. If you know of any please share.

  2. I love that you’re stepping back to write for the joy of the craft.
    I’ve stepped back recently as I try to wrap my head around what my book is versus what I want it to be. Sometimes the reality is hard to hear when you have delusions of grandeur you were unaware of.
    Funny the things that mess with the writing. It’s so basic and tactile, pen/paper, and yet so fragile that thread between the heart and the pen.

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