We are crossing the bridge between Christmas and New Year’s. Christmas, a picturesque alpine village built around a lake tucked away from the rest of the world. When we’re in it, it’s all that matters, the only place in the world. Magical. But we are on the outskirts now and climbing a pretty arched wooden bridge wound with vines that will take us out towards the highway. We look back once and the trees seem to huddle together as if to conceal Christmas from view. Soon it will no longer be visible.
Christmas is an extra special place for procrastinating writers. A writers’ retreat, if you like, because we initially dive into it knowing that writing is off the table for the duration otherwise our loved ones will disown us with taunts of Ebeneezer Scrooge. We delight in the freedom while it lasts. It doesn’t last long.
Guilt sets in. Then the feeling of guilt for feeling guilty begins. Soon it becomes as layered and sticky as the custard, fruit, jelly, sponge cake and whipped cream of the trifle you scoff in front of a bad Christmas movie to attempt to take your mind off it. You wonder when it will be okay to leave the family circle and mooch off to your writing corner. You daren’t ask.
Writer’s guilt is more prevalent than writer’s block but much less discussed. There should be support groups during the holidays for sufferers. Change the ‘d’ in ‘Guild’ to ‘t’ and you’d have Writers Guilt of America. There would be meetings in churches all over the country; you’d address everyone by first name only. Writers guilt is more invasive than Catholic guilt which is a communal feeling of discomfort you carry through life as a result of being being born with original sin. Nothing you can really do about that. Writer’s guilt, however, is your own personal temple of anguish that you built with your own hands. It preys on your deepest rooted fears. I’ll never complete that novel; I’m a loser. I’ll never be able to follow up with a second novel; it was a fluke. I’m no writer. I should never have left that high-paying job. I should get a 9-5 and support my family. My wife deserves better. I am unfit to bring children into the world. My college classmate’s book has been picked up by a Hollywood film studio and I can’t get past page 47 on mine. Loser…
The fruits of Christmas can serve to combat that guilt. For example, I’ll be working diligently on this for days…
So many pieces to fit together. 1000! I can really get my teeth stuck into this project.
Yet my second novel languishes.
Even though there are glaring plot points that need piecing together and many crucial bits missing, I will labour late into the night to complete this masterpiece instead.The little crunch of colored shapes slotting into their jagged little gaps is so satisfying. When I finish, oh, the sense of accomplishment!
With the haven of Christmas left behind, New Year’s is the flashing city off on the horizon already reflecting on our eyeballs as we reach the middle of the bridge. We stare at it, with a mixture of trepidation and hope. In that bustling metropolis rest our ideas of success, fulfillment, romance, but there also lurks danger and disappointment. At this time, Christmas starts to look like nothing but a stopover, as the race to claim our spot in that big gleaming city takes over.
But, as Lewis Carroll said ” If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
So it occurs to me that, when I get off this bridge, I need to work out which direction to take so as not to get lost on the intersecting avenues and streets of New Year’s, knocked sideways by the other screaming travelers newly arrived in search of their dreams. I need to know where I’m going.
The last half of 2013 has been all about the launch and promotion of Silk for the Feed Dogs. But I have another novel simmering in me and it needs to get out. I gave Silk a jolly good send-off and now must let it fend for itself somewhat. I must make plans for new writing, enjoy a different writer’s retreat in the new year. That’s the only upside to the guilt: the joy of being immersed in writing and the sense of potential surrounding new work that has yet to be seen by anyone’s eyes but yours.
Writing is a blissful but solitary, painstaking, maddening process. I often turn to Oscar for advice on this among other matters. He seems to know just the right thing to say for every occasion and seems unafflicted by guilt. How to get rid of it, I ask.
It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution, he replies.