I’m having one of those rare Squee! days where the sun is shining, the ocean is sparkling, a cool breeze is caressing my skin, the birds are singing and even the plants seem happy. Stupid grin. Singing. The whole Disney deal. And instead of leaving it alone and just enjoying the moment (or the day if it lasts that long) I have to know what made it happen, because it’s been a very ordinary morning – just editing draft, liking a particular scene I’d written and thinking there wasn’t much to change. But 9am when I got up I had a spring in my step, was singing on the way to Marcello (my Italian coffee machine), and feeling happy.
Seemingly for no good reason. My agent hadn’t rung me to say I had a new contract. I hadn’t won any awards or even received a fan email (which is one of my favourite things, right behind whiskers on kittens). So I made a coffee, put a load of washing on and went back upstairs to the computer, and by the time I got there I was singing. “It’s such a perfect day . . .” (Lou Reed), but really channelling the whole Julie Andrews thing. Surprisingly, unaccountably happy.
All I’d been doing was the same thing that writers do every day. Putting words together. Pulling them apart and changing them around. Swapping some. Deleting others. Reading them aloud and changing them again. But today it made me feel good. Like a “real writer”, which is weird when I’ve had three books published. However I know for a fact that seeing my name on the cover of a book doesn’t give me the same stupid grin that crafting a near-perfect scene does. In fact, contracts, public appearances, reviews, even fan emails all come packaged with performance expectation and anxiety, no matter how many times I’ve delivered more than was expected of me in the past. They’re exciting, but they’re also marginally scary. There’s nothing of the pure happiness I feel today in them.
So now I suspect that it’s doing the work, not getting the accolades, that creates happy, and it reminds me of a blog post I read recently by an author I greatly respect: Kim Wilkins who also writes as Kimberley Freeman.
She called her post “The Romance of Work” and in it she says: When I was a little girl, I read a book that would affect me profoundly. It was Gladys Malvern’s The Dancing Star, first published in 1944, an account of the life of Anna Pavlova, written for children… But it wasn’t the stuff about ballet that affected me so deeply, it was the stuff about work. According to the book, Anna Pavlova was obsessed with dancing. She practised all the time. She did it until her toes bled and she just. kept. going. This notion, that one could work so hard and push through barriers of extreme discomfort, really took hold of my imagination. From that moment on, I understood the incredible romance of work: diligent hours spent on something that mattered to make an outcome appear in the world.
Not only for me, but for a lot of writers, I think that’s the key to happy: “Diligent hours spent on something that mattered to make an outcome appear in the world.”
Doesn’t sound heroic when you say it like that, but devoting a year of your life to a novel you’re not sure will work is an act of faith, and it’s nice to think that the faith is rewarded with moments of pure joy.
That’s definitely something worth singing about.