Still Sweeping excerpt by J.G. Chayko (published 2011)
A writer friend of mine posted on his social media page: “some days I feel like everything is going wrong and some days I feel like everything falls into place.”
Most days of writing can be a struggle. It takes work to craft that perfect piece we finally deem ready for the public eye. While we all want those easy days where the right words come in the right order at exactly the right time, I realize that our successes would not be quite as sweet without the struggle. It’s because of our failures and frustrations that we achieved success in the first place. Those labours are the core to our success – they are our passions, our efforts, our desire and our inspirations. Without them, it wouldn’t feel nearly as rewarding. It’s those frustrations and setbacks that drive us to keep going. They teach us to dig deeper, push harder, take a second and even a third look and make us question if it is really our best work.
Life would not be stimulating if everything was just handed to us. We would lose our ability to imagine, we would lose the remarkable creativity that defines us. What would we learn if we never had to struggle? There’d be no impetus to do the things we love if we sat down and wrote a perfect piece every single time. What would happen to our curiosity that took us there in the first place?
That’s the roller coaster, the topsy-turvy unpredictable world of an artistic life. We will, and should, have these days – and when we achieve the triumphswe worked so hard for, we can be thankful for those times where everything seemed to be going wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, writers actually do (and must) participate in a life outside of our own secluded world – I can’t always be at my desk, but no matter where I go or what task I am currently performing, my mind is constantly in motion, spinning out chunks of dialogue, visualising settings and chasing plots.I write down as much as I can when I’m on the road, hoping I can call it up again when I’m ready to work. It doesn’t always turn out that way – sometimes I come to the desk and my muse doesn’t. Those incredible images that were filled with color two days ago are black and white; the fantastic dialogue has silenced; my characters are nowhere to be found.
This happens to all of us at one time or another. We show up for work but our muse and our literary characters have clearly made other plans. It used to be that when this happened, I walked away from the desk and went back to daily life, just hoping my muse would reappear in a glittering shower of inspiration. Nothing is more frustrating than showing up at my desk and staring at the screen for two hours, wondering if there was something else I could have been doing instead of wasting time – as it turns out, there is.
In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King states: “if you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot”. It so happened that one day I came to the desk and the words didn’t come with me, so in an effort to spark some motivation, I picked up his book, opened it to the page where this sentence was written (page 145 for your reference), and stumbled upon a new awareness: reading is not only an enjoyable pastime, but it is a big part of my work as a writer. I am learning about my craft and staying in my writing mind when I come to the desk.
Now I don’t get frustrated when the words don’t come – I use that time to read. It’s another way for me to keep coming to the desk. It’s the purest form of research. It’s enjoyable, inspiring and most important, it keeps me focussed. Reading about writing or reading about the experience of other authors, will ultimately ignite a road flare that summons my muse back to me.
When do you call yourself a writer? This seems to be a complicated dilemma for many. Some people feel they can’t truly call themselves a writer until they’ve received some sort of exceptional endorsement for their work. I disagree.
There is no test, no exam, no screening method, no extraordinary circumstance that suddenly makes one “a writer.” When people ask me when I called myself a writer, I tell them I called myself a writer the first moment I picked up a pen. Before my first publication, before my first meager payment for a short story, I was a writer. A publication or a payment should never define you as such – short stories, poetry, memoir, novels, essays or blog posts – quite simply, if you write you are a writer. All you need to do is do it.
I mainly write fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry, but every now and then I like to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself by writing in a new genre. And anytime that challenge helps out with a cause, it brings with it a delightful feeling of satisfaction.
Here is a review I wrote for a local show produced by The Page Theatre, a wonderful little up and coming theatre company created by a friend of mine through her passion and love for theatre. Since their creation almost four years ago, they have produced four shows, taking one of them all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s no easy feat trying to get a theatre company (or any company) off the ground, but if I can help them out on their creative journey, and develop my own skills along the way, I will gladly do so.
It has been a scorching summer – the driest we’ve had on record in our temperate rain forest, a season of smoke and fire. It has been a season of drought, not only for the rain we crave, but also for the words I would bring to the page. I have lost my vision in the residue of a demanding few months, and like the rain that will not fall, my stream of words have evaporated to a trickle. But this does not mean I am not working. It simply means I must turn to another aspect of my job as a writer. I have found a reprieve from my own drought in reading.
Reading is essential to the writer. It is, in essence, the writers’ research. Reading helps me release my mind. It takes me out of my own head for a while, unlocking a fresh awareness to thoughts and impressions without the pressure of a deadline. I keep a notebook by my side while reading, because often ideas will come when I least expect them. It is the season of brainstorming, dreaming and exploration. I am training for the creation of my own road map. Reading reminds me why I write. It revives my dedication to the craft I love and helps me carve out my own style.
Just like sticking to a writing schedule, it’s important to find time to read. I am learning to incorporate reading as part of my work, dismissing the niggling voices in my head that tell me I have too many projects to complete, that I don’t have time for this. The fact is, I’m always going to have to too many projects. Being an avid reader will only enhance my skill as a writer. Reading allows my imagination to flourish, showing me all the hidden possibilities I hope to deliver to my readers.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
I am a neat freak by nature – my home is immaculate. I dust, vacuum, and wash on a regular basis. Everything has its place and everything is in that place. Of course, there is always an exception and mine is my writing desk. On most days it looks like the aftermath of a hurricane; on really good days it resembles what my imagination perceives as the aftermath of the apocalypse.
My desk is not the only thing that exhibits the delightfully messy beast of creativity. There’s that telltale blue (sometimes black) ink smear permanently tattooed along the outer pinky of my left hand, the fuzzy smudge bearing the mark of the left-handed writer. And on days when arthritis steps in to thwart my mad scribbling across the page, I turn to my headphones and the glory of voice dictation. But don’t be fooled by this trim compact contraption – it too, bears the tangle of chaos in the messy world of writing. I must be precise and even with all its high-tech capability, it may not always understand what I mean to say. My final product with voice dictation will still be subject to rigorous editing (and sometimes translation) to return it to some semblance of my original account.
Creativity is a messy beast and we should let it wander across the boundaries of our modest decorum. Inhibited creativity will never produce the same quality, discoveries, breakthroughs or rapture during its process. We should let it upset the apple cart, frustrate us, make us dizzy – it should take our neat concept and fling it like a deck of cards around the room, forcing us to crawl through the beautiful chaos it creates. In the midst of that chaos we will find our reward, and only then can we reign in the power of its destruction and produce the brilliant entity we envisioned.