“She does it for comfort.” This rather wondering sentence was said about me by one friend to another, some decades ago. They were trying to figure out why I wrote, the way people wonder what the appeal of running is, in the winter, for example, or when it is dark. Because many people fantasise about such a thing - about finishing a novel or running a marathon - we think how that might improve or lives, or make it, oddly, worse. It is easy to see the benefits of running, after you have stopped, but a writer suffers at the desk for a result that is hard to define. The pay is often poor. The book is always terrible. It does not make you feel better. And back you go to do it again.
I took my pulse today, when I was in the middle of writing a novel. It was lower than when I woke this morning. What does this mean? That my heart, when I am working, is more peaceful than when I am at rest.
In the long term - over two or three decades perhaps - writing does make you feel better. You have to settle in to it, of course. You have to get used to being alone. It helps if you like words (but who doesn’t?) I still do not know if to name a thing is to possess it or destroy it, but this game - of possession or destruction or of love - that happens in language is one I find deeply pleasurable, almost essential. It seems to me that once you find language you must keep finding it and you must use what you find to to the limit of your ability, because the process of writing is the only thing that empties you out and sustains you, both at the same time.
Of course, there are structural concerns; shapes to be discovered, stories to be invented and told. I find writing hard work. I am often lost. Sometimes I am lost for years. I live in uncertainty. The act of production leaves me permanently undone. And yet there is a fugitive sweetness there, that I seek out over and again. Making things up is a lovely thing to do. And it is comforting. I need to write the way some people need to run, just because they have legs. I need it, above all, when the world impinges. I go to the keyboard the way other people go to bed. I wrap myself in work. I dream.