WHY must I have Existential Crises at 10:45 on Sunday nights? We even had a long weekend this weekend, I had plenty of time to come unglued about the glacial speed at which my current revision is going — but no. When we needed to be safely asleep and storing up hours of rest against a busy week, I start fidgeting and sighing, and poor Tech Boy says, “So… should I just leave the light on?”
“No… it’s fine, we can go to bed. It’s just that…” Aaaand, we’re off.
My Tech Boy is no stranger to my cray-cray, but rather than rolling his eyes or tuning me out in favor of his book – which, not gonna lie, I might do to me – he actually listens to the words behind the hysteria. He listens until I wind down, and then says a few knowledgeable things which spark something. Somehow, within minutes, I am back on track after spewing invective and doubt all over the room. I grab my bedside pad of paper and pencil, and start scribbling notes. I nod. We discuss. And, finally, much later, I sleep, at last able to actually relax.
Much to my dismay, yes. There’s a moment like this EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
But, then, this is par for the course:
“There is always, of course, that terrible three weeks, or a month, which you have to get through when you are trying to get started on a book. There is no agony like it. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down on a sofa, feeling like you want to cry your head off. Then you go out and interrupt someone who is busy – Max usually, because he is so good-natured – and you say:
“‘It’s awful, Max, do you know, I have quite forgotten how to write – I simply can’t do it any more! I shall never write another book.’”
“‘Oh yes you will,’” Max would say consolingly. He used to say it with some anxiety at first: now his eyes stray back again to his work while he talks soothingly.
“‘But I know I won’t. I can’t think of an idea. I had an idea, but now it seems no good.’”
“‘You’ll just have to get through this phase. You’ve had all this before. You said it last year. You said it the year before.’”
“‘It’s different this time,’” I say, with positive assurance.
“But it wasn’t different, of course, it was just the same. You forget every time what you felt before when it comes again: such misery and despair, such inability to do anything that seems the least creative. And yet it seems that this particular phase of misery has got to be lived through. It is rather like putting the ferrets in to bring out what you want at the end of the rabbit burrow. Until there has been a lot of subterranean disturbance, until you have spent long hours of utter boredom, you can never feel normal. You can’t think of what you want to write, and if you pick up a book you find you are not reading it properly. If you try to do a crossword your mind isn’t on the clues; you are possessed by a feeling of paralyzed hopelessness.
“Then, for some unknown reason, an inner ‘starter’ gets you off at the post. You begin to function, you know then that ‘it’ is coming, the mist is clearing up. You know suddenly, with absolute certitude, just what A wants to say to B. You can walk out of the house, down the road, talking to yourself violently, repeating the conversation that Maud, say, is going to have with Aylwin, and exactly where they will be, just where the other man will be watching through the trees, and how the little dead pheasant on the ground makes Maud think of something she had forgotten, and so on and so on. And you come home bursting with pleasure; you haven’t done anything at all yet, but you are – triumphantly – there.”
An Autobiography: Agatha Christie, pp. 571-572)
To think that the woman who crafted Marple and Poirot writhed on the point of her pen makes me smile. That she nagged her husband with her crazy makes me laugh. Some of us have to make several false starts to begin our writing; others of us struggle with slump-y middles, and still others of us are in agonies at the end. All of us are, at some point, an absolute joy to live with. I can never say enough good things about my Tech Boy – when I am pulling out hair and clinging to the side of cliffs, he just starts talking me down.
I think I’ll keep him.