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.

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Sherri

Exactly what I needed today, as I berate myself for not writing because I'm too tired/too busy/worrying about something else. They've felt like excuses all morning - in fact they are reasons.
I am taking the rest of the day off.
Thank you.

sophie

Sounds so familiar. I'm often beset by the two of them together when I'm feeling uninspired. When I have an editing hitch, I can't come away from the computer,flitting between my text and the internet or facebook. When I'm trying to create something from scratch, I think about it all the time, instead of letting my brain breathe. I wonder what I'd achieve if I was a little more disciplined working and turning off.

Moira

So true. I can quite often spend the day writing, be pleased which what I have achieved and how the story is progressing, then whoops! Suddenly I am wondering if I am just wasting time, mine and everyone else's. Not to mention drinking too much coffee, not getting enough exercise.

Emma Darwin

Sherri, you're welcome! And yes, it can be hard to persuade ourselves that actually they can be good reasons.

Emma Darwin

Well, if you're really on a roll, I'm all for going with it. But, actually, sometimes you're not, you're pushing commas around, and fiddling, and making muddles.

Cynthia Robertson

Love this: "especially when you’ll only look a fool by exposing your soft underbelly of thought and feeling to the world."
Nice one, Emma. :)

Alireza Heidari

that is so true. i really liked this post Emma. it really is helpful when you see the problem you are struggling with is not only yours!

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

I can relate to this. I've just spent months in must-write mode, pushing on even though I knew my novel wasn't working.I was determined I would work through it. I've now taken a step back and accepted that the novel in its current form is not working. I'm hoping soon to be in the hands of the just-write angel!

Sinistra Inksteyne

Eloquently and concisely put - and I'm glad to know it's not just me, although I admit I'm more plagued by the Anti-Writing Demon than his infernal associate.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)