It’s five am. Late. Or maybe early. I’m sat at my desk in the dry light of the approaching morn, writing. I’m a walking cliche, I know. The wannabe desperate nomad who seeks solace from the oppressive city in a battered old notepad and pen – thoughts of great poets and her own shaky verses churning in her mind.
But while I sit and stare at the page, no words come out. It’s in moments like these where one contemplates the fleeting nature of ideas. Here I am, stressed and useless, probably (definitely) tired, just thinking about how best to manufacture inspiration. Thoughts and ideas always seem to ebb and flow. Emotions, events going on in my life, a busy schedule, all feed into my ability, or indeed, my inability, to write.
Biting my pen at the end so that the ink swells into large globules on the page, I give up. I go back to bed. I remind myself that I am not the Romantic poet who wakes at dawn to hear the birdsong, the whistling wind, the chords of the Aeolian harp, nor am I the late-night genius working by candlelight to produce his next masterpiece for the court of Henry VIII. My mind races and doesn’t deliver. Especially at five am.
The next day I’m running errands around the centre of Berlin, looking at everything with an author’s zeal, inhaling intricate details of everything I pass to aid my woeful attempt at writing. I gaze at the contours of the buildings before me, some almost beautiful in their concrete majesty. I look to the sky, incandescent in the waning light of the afternoon and to the wily shapes of trees reflected in the river. Is this poetry, or just plain bullshit? I laugh at myself, clutching my books tightly as if to impress their words onto my tired hands and down the nib of my pen, and at the failure of my corny attempt to write something that matters. Darkness approaches, the streets fill up and inspiration has fled.
Writer’s block – the affliction of the creative. You berate yourself for failing. You berate yourself for trying.
Sometimes you just cannot force it.
We’re taught in life to banish feelings of self-doubt as a hindrance to progress. Yet, here I am, yielding to self-doubt and making up words in the process. I have produced little else but a personal essay composed of self-depreciation, but I have somehow managed to string coherent sentences together.
Writing is about identity. I haven’t quite found mine yet. A personal essayist I could perhaps say, or just someone that rambles on in the direction of something vaguely meaningful. My writing is inescapably inflected by my own experiences. My thoughts and opinions seem to infiltrate my sentences at any available moment, no matter what the topic. A personal essayist, I could say, or just a plain narcissist?
In later years when I am more wizened with age, perhaps my writing will take a different form. Perhaps I will always be overthrown by too many ideas rather than too few. A good writer understands the limits of his or her understanding of the world. The most important lesson, I think, is to stay curious. This brief essay has been nothing if not a practical exercise of self doubt, but by allowing my mind to wander, I reminded myself of my motto: ‘ideas flourish at the hands of the uninhibited.’ Trusting your own process, your own curiosity, can, at times, pay off.
And on that note, in a further absence of ideas, I leave you with a friendly platitude from Sir Philip Sidney on the subject of lapsed inspiration:
‘Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
‘Fool!’ said my muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.’
– Astrophel and Stella 1. 13-14