When someone asks me am I working on something, I never really know what to say. I want to answer truthfully, for that is how I was brought up. Yes, I say, there is something. I don’t know what it is yet, but I think there is something, yes. What is it, they say. I can’t tell you, I say. Can’t or won’t? Both.
I’m much happier talking about writing that has happened, in the past, the artefact of it, not the action. This is also the case for talking about that most shadowy of concepts my ‘process’ or ‘practice’. I put those words in quotes partly because I have a long-standing terror of coming across all pretentious and partly because I only recognise these things as having occured, in the past tense. When I am actually writing the last thing I am aware of is what this practice entails. All I am prepared to give away is that it is messy, non-linear and never as easy as I want it to be.
But there is one thing that is common to all of my projects (practice), and that is the moment when you realise what it is you have been doing (or have foolishly embarked on) has the potential to become something other than what you first intended. In other words, it appears to you (to me) as having a form, a being, a living entity, with a life of its own. In Still Writing this is what Dani Shapiro says arrives ‘with the certainty of its own rightness’. Emerson called it ‘a gleam of light which flases across [your] mind from within’. Joan Didion called it ‘a shimmer around the edges’.
I can’t go into the details, but I know I have experienced those flashes and gleams this year. Most often when I was not looking for it, was certain it would never arrive again, and definitely not in the middle of doing any writing. I experience them as excitement, of course, as a kind of longing that suddenly shows signs of becoming fulfilled. Increasingly, however, I also experience them with a kind of grief. While I know that the project in hand may well have its own ideas about its final form and destination, I am also aware of a kind of holy terror that is twin to the thrill of discovery: there will be no one else to blame, no one else to do the work. No one is responsible for this, but me. And then that essay-for-homework feeling: now there is just the work. Whatever you are working on at the moment (and whether you even realise you are working or not), I wish you gleams and flashes this year.