The Alchemy: A guide to gentle productivity in your writing

By Anna Vaught

An intimate writing guide that is for anyone who wants to learn how to improve their craft.

Monday, 23 May 2022

On creativity and deep sadness

Now here is something I wrote on my blog earlier - and it is absolutely relevant to themes in The Alchemy. At first glance, it is a bleak piece, but look carefully at what I have said about creativity in the context of less than ideal conditions. I am telling you about me; you can see what I have done and been doing.

Because as well as books that tell you about writing and suggest resources, I believe that you need something to tell you what to do when you feel you have no resources. I have discovered a curious thing and placed it at the heart of my life. 

                                                       

I have written before about how writing need not live in ideal conditions. If you wait for the planets to align, a better desk, a writing shed, more time, more supportive people about you or any number of things, you may never start. You are, in effect, deferring your creativity to fate. To random acts. To heartbreak being mended.

Sometimes heartbreak is not mended.

I have a broken heart. I have no sense of whether it will ever be mended and I have gradually come to this realisation.

I know that sounds bleak.

Some problems do not have a solution, some things are not recoverable. There are not always resources or will to help you and illness or pain may not be fixable. And no, things do not always happen for a reason and no, you are not only given what you can cope with. These are trite, empty affirmations; arid lies. Of course they are.

This is where I am right now.

But take my hand. Sometimes, I sit at my desk, or the kitchen table, I can feel a deep pain in the region of my heart. This is not all, though. Yes, I sit there and feel it could be torn in two – ‘break heart, I prithee break’ – but it does not. It refuses. Because this is not all.

Here is what happens. I use words and small questions. I start asking myself those questions. How does it feel? What is happening elsewhere? Who can I hear? Somehow, just those simple acts, of focus and using language to mould my experiences of the world, in the smallest possible way, right then, enable me to cope. Some say I am thriving. It is the greatest paradox and also what I want to reiterate about writing- and starting it or continuing.

You may think you are too put upon, ill, sad, to ask those small questions and consider language and its aspirations; what it might do for you. This is not so. Sometimes, there is no happiness; you do not have that. In my case, there is the work. I teach teenagers, I mentor young adults and, increasingly, I am a creative writing teacher too. There are my books. Everything you can read of mine has been forced onto the page, in small questions, and small but resolute conversations with language. I have written sitting on the bonnet of my car in hospital car parks, lying on the floor at night on duty; I have reimagined what writing is, by coming fully to understand that it is not only the words onto the page, but thinking and reading. Also, as I said, that creative work, if you can trust just enough, will still emerge in the most disconsolate moods, times: in the life which has come unstuck because of grief. Your intellect wants to play; to dance: respond to it.

So I know this piece is sad and yet it is also not. At the heart of sadness is miracle. It does not fix anything but it is still there, like an impulse to life. Perhaps not hope, but beauty.

You can trust me on this.

With all my love,

Anna x

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