Tough act

I had a lot of trouble writing this article. First, I put it off for days. Normally, I write the first word of a new piece, and a few more if the muses have had their breakfast, at the start of each week. Over the following days, I build it up, slowly sculpting it into something worth putting out here. By the end of the week, only a few final touches are needed before I let it loose.

But sometimes the workflow fails. This week has been one of those times. I couldn’t get a word out on Monday. I wasn’t in the right mood. And, unlike most professions, mine runs on mood. We writers know mood better than most living things. We are right up there with them mama elephants and cartoon fish. Mood is the juice that powers our creations.

I do not mean this as an excuse. I know there is a place for routine in writing. Why else would I spend the energy to build one up? Any craft needs consistency. As a writer, I need to spend hours and hours hammering out words. Without it, I would quickly go out of practise and fall into a creative block, and crawling out of that hole is quite hard.

But the times when routines fail are not accidents, nor obstacles to be overcome. True, they make us miserable, but they are an integral part of the art. It is this ironic interplay, between routine and adventure, that helps us craft beautiful stories, stories that pierce skin and race for the heart, pieces of art made from little more than twenty six letters.

I know this, but I still wondered a little why mood failed me this week. Part of me tells me that maybe the stress of the present circumstances, in which we all share, had something to do with it. But another part of me, the rational one, tells me that I should not lay this at the feet of the coronavirus. I have seen it before, even back when coronavirus wasn’t a word to most of us. Moreover, I have had the right mood in more stressful times.

In addition, little has changed for me. I still wake up at 6:00 am as usual. I still dress up for Mass, except I can’t attend it in person, so I follow the Pope’s Mass on YouTube. I respond to his Italian verses in English, even though I could do it in Latin. I guess I am too Kenyan, and in Kenya we speak English (this is loaded, I know).

Most importantly, there is nothing new to me about staying indoors for extended periods. In fact, I love it better than the usual plot. I am one of those people who frequently run away from the office and work from some other place. Often, I work from another town entirely, and I am so good at it that no one notices my absence.

I am here praying they will let me continue to work from home after the virus has burnt itself out. It’s not that I hate people. In fact, my colleagues are positively awesome people. Folks I have dealt with personally also know I am generally a good sport, although I get cranky sometimes. No, that’s not the issue. I just enjoy being left alone, to my own devices.

What is new to me is that everyone is now an expert on how to work from home. People on these streets have never questioned why they take a creaky matatus to an office on the other side of town every day. Yet here they are, holding forth on how to keep your mojo while working from home. It’s ridiculous.

Anyway, it’s probably not the lockdown that suppressed my mood. Writing is just a tough act. There are times when it is easy, when you have stories bubbling under your fingers, clamouring to be poured out. But sometimes you just sit there, staring interminably at an empty Word document, begging it to throw you even one of the words you tossed at it in one of the previous sessions. Of course, it never does.

So I don’t open Word documents unless I really have to. Usually, routine is a compulsion enough. But routine failed this time. I had to open this one because, in my lamentable buffoonery, I pledged to hand 100 bob to someone if I don’t add a new article to my blog each week this year. And this week is ending. And we are in a lockdown. And I would be foolish to give away 100 bob in these times, on grounds as flimsy as honouring a bet.

Yet even after I opened it, I still couldn’t write. So I stepped out and read an article by another blogger, in which he recounts his own struggles with the art. Then I came back to this document and typed out the first word. I deleted it immediately and wrote another one, which I also deleted. I don’t remember the first word I wrote anymore. But hey, I got here, which means that heroic first word died for a good cause. It opened the gates for all the others.

It was only after I had written the skeleton of this article when I remembered that I keep a certain list on Evernote. It’s a little bucket into which I throw stray thoughts that I can expand into articles when I run out of ideas. If only I had remembered this on Monday, perhaps I would not have suffered so much. But then again, I cannot know that for sure. Maybe I will get next week’s article from the list.

Feature image: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

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