Angèle Eliane looks at the pressure to be recognised as a writer and letting go as part of the creative process.
It’s three o’clock and I have an idea. It’s brilliant. It will definitely work. Probably the best idea I’ve ever had. Quick. Need to note it down on the paper and push it back. Push it as far as the little light on the side of my brain burns.
It’s three o’clock and I’m sitting at my desk, tapping my leg, opening a Word document, opening a Google Doc, trying to stay clear of my boss.
My fingers brush the keyboard, closing the document from time to time.
The guilt cramps up. My stomach makes a growling noise. I close the page and go back to my Excel sheet. I feel frustrated. I can’t focus anymore. Concentration has evaporated but so has the idea, and that’s where the struggle starts.
Have you ever had a job you don’t feel is right for you? It occurs around four o’clock; I stay physically present but my mind vanishes for an hour and a half, waiting for the clock to reach 5.30pm and let me go. First out of the door, just like at school. Back home. Back to safety. My body relaxes as I adjust my backpack straps on my shoulders, get onto the Overground. Back home to what seems more interesting. I sometimes imagine it’s a cop out from my real life, but what do I mean when I say “real life” ? As far as I’m aware, this is real life.
It’s not exactly being a fraud, although I sit among people who are passionate or pretending to be about what they do, but suddenly, an idea comes to mind where I could publish a book and be THE writer.
Reality comes knocking back on my door when I get home around six in the evening and realize the work has to happen in its own time, but the little voice keeps on coming back: no time, no time, no time, need to make the most of it.
In reality, I would love to be the person who’s not materialistic enough to live out of her writing: a few papers here and there, commissioned for blog posts. I wouldn’t know where to start but I also know I’m not that person. My job makes me happy sometimes and miserable when I get the idea that I’m not doing enough. I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I also feel like being in London makes you work crazy hours to earn 60k per year and think you’ve made it? I’m not sure I want to make it.
I work Monday to Friday in a startup company. I come up with strategies, statistics, content, planning, a vocabulary that does not fall under creativity but still involves writing, a writing made of numbers, calculations, customer’s data. I couldn’t be further away from being a creative, although that’s what I’m called.
During the week, I go home and sit at another desk, in what I used to call my “second job” but that’s where I made the first mistake: it’s not a “second job” because I don’t have to do it, even though I make up a whole schedule it falls through when I’m too tired.
And the next day, the guilt creeps on.
Lately, I haven’t gone down the guilt trip path that much. I write when I want to. Perhaps that’s the secret: wanting to write is not to write, let the ideas simmer and understand that being productive is also about letting go. I give myself a break.
What will it change if I write one sentence today or tomorrow? It might disappear but another one will replace it and revive the story.
I don’t want extra hours at work nor live the London cliché, because the extra hours are at home, working on my collection of essays, writing my life away.
The only guilt left is the woman’s one. I convince myself I’m not doing enough. I’ve anchored it in my soul, or perhaps someone else did that for me. I shouldn’t want this. I shouldn’t want to write. I should become successful to support myself and my imaginary family. I have to become a strong woman.
I have often wondered where the balance lies in being a writer and if I can even call myself a writer when 8 hours a day, 5 times per week, I sit at a desk trying to come up with appealing content in order to make the customers behind my data sheet click on a button, and buy a product they don’t need.
Writing a story is almost the same: how can I make it compelling? I convince myself I am a fraud when people ask, “So what do you do?” The words come out of my mouth too quickly: I’m a content writer, but I am also a writer, I’m writing a book of essays. The more I say it, the more truthful it becomes. I wish sometimes I would just be a writer. The guilt is eternal. Why is it never enough? My surroundings, society, the world, work, my imagination scream I should do more, but “doing more” shouldn’t dictate creativity. Creativity is what I make of it.
I’m getting better slowly, surely. The fraudster disappears, but she comes back from time to time, strong enough that I can smell her from afar.
The trigger is comparing myself to others: writers, friends, lovers, strangers, stories. What if I’m not doing enough? I see competition winners and senders, claiming they are at the top of the productivity chain, but is that what writing is about?
I lose my balance in life when I try to figure out how much writing I should get done in the week. Let it go.
My head still hurts when I sit in a meeting, wishing I was somewhere else. I give up on being superficial. My happiness doesn’t have to depend on the book I might never finish or publish. I put myself first. The words mutate. Does that make me less of a writer? Recognition makes me a writer, but it also doesn’t.
What makes me miserable is the overthinking: the guilt that goes with reading an article about how writing twenty minutes per day is the only way to become a writer. How could I be fooled? This is after all what I do: fool people with catchy sentences, but we’re still taught we’re not writers enough.
A friend once asked me a question about a guy I was dating, as I was crying on her outdoor steps, drunk, sucking on a cigarette in the middle of the night: “Does he make you happy?” I didn’t even take the time to respond. The word “no” already popped up in my head. The next day, I broke up with him on the same doorstep.
I’ve reduced my writing guilt convulsions to this simple question: “Does it make me happy?” Yes. Yes, it fucking does.