SOMETIMES... 20 things about writing that don't get said often enough
Giving a Reading Part One - Getting Ready

The Anti-Writing Demon and the Must-Write Demon

These are my names for the two creatures who bedevil (well, they are demons) so many of us, so often.

The Anti-Writing Demon conceives his job to be stopping you writing. At the beginning of your writing life he may succeed simply by telling you that your writing is silly, and you’re not entitled to spend the time on it, especially when you’ll only look a fool by exposing your soft underbelly of thought and feeling to the world. Why he’s appointed himself to this job is a question for the psychoanalysts, but what his job is, is simple: to protect you from ridicule, exposure or disaster. He’s fuelled by fear of just those things.

But once you’ve taught yourself to ignore (most of the time) his overt efforts, the Anti-Writing Demon has to box clever. He may dress up in a virtuous or appealing disguise, but however much the Anti-Writing Demon seems to have your well-being at heart, his idea of your well-being is always to play totally safe: never to risk someone judging what you do as silly or inadequate; never to risk not getting a book deal or not winning a competition; never to court rejection or heartbreak or plain hard work; never to risk regretting in the end that you ever made a beginning. Only, of course, the only way never to risk anything is never to do anything.

The Must-Write Demon, on the other hand, seems like a good angel. Isn’t it she who vanquishes the Anti-Writing Demon? Isn’t one of the basic skills of a serious writer the capacity to sit down and write, and keep sitting down and writing, even when you don’t really feel like? Of course it is. So the Must-Write Demon isn't about having to ignore everything because you have a deadline looming: sometimes that’s simply how life is. Rather, you know the Must-Write Demon is at work when she keeps you at it even when it’s against your best and most writerly interests.

At her worst, she won’t let you talk to a friend, or cook a nice supper, or take an hour off to go for a walk while the sun’s still shining. And she certainly won’t let you take a day off to go paintballing. Her fuel, I’d suggest is also fear. This time, it's fear of what will happen if you stop writing, and wait to see what fills that space. What will you think, feel or realise? That your writing is a waste of time? That you are a waste of space? That other things - the broken business or marriage or heart - will flood back in? That somewhere along the line your life has shrunk and dried and you don’t know how to enlarge and enrich it again? That you really should be opening your own ears and heart to receiving what your child or your friend needs to say? Much, much easier to shut yourself into the novel and grapple with your characters' needs, or better still the precise relationship of the different kinds of police force in Italy, because of course you can't possibly finish the chapter and stop and go to the gym or start cooking the tea, till you know.

A writer friend with bi-polar tendencies wrote five novels in two years; we might admire that, but there was a lot of collateral damage to the rest of her life. Both Must-Write and Anti-Writing demons can be manifestations of a proper, clinical depression, just as both hyper-activity and lethargy may be rooted in a depressive illness. So, if there are other things in your life also pointing towards something serious, please get some proper, professional help. And even if you feel that your writing also comes from that dark place, do please know that getting help won’t damage that, though it may change it.

Assuming that you’re okay otherwise, tthe real difficulty is discerning whether this particular Must-Write or Anti-Writing moment is devil-ridden, or sensible. I’m fiddling around getting insurance quotes weeks before I need to, because an inner voice is telling me that the story I sat down to write won’t win the competition I’m writing it for. But is that a sensible because it’s true, and I’d do better to spend the writing time on something else? Or is that the Anti-Writing Demon talking? I’m gluing the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair, and grinding on with this scene which won’t even start, let alone come alive, and the effort to keep away from the internet and not eat my body-weight in snacks is exhausting me. Is that sensibly, adultly getting-it-written? Or is the Must-Write Demon blocking my ears to the cry of some other part of my life which legitimately needs attention?

I can’t of course, answer that, any more than I can tell you when you should feel the fear and do it anyway, and when you should feel the fear and run hard in the opposite direction. You won’t always find the right answer about when to keep working, and when to stop and go for a hike/shop/snooze. But it's always a good question to ask yourself.

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