So where have I been? How can something take a year longer than you think? A whole year! How can 12 months disappear as you turn around, wipe sides, tidy up, drink coffee in cafes and go swimming. Leaves grow, leaves fall.
Although I have been nominally writing a book ever since I finished the walk, a period of almost two years, I realise now that I have had to become ready to write. I have had to show myself exactly how much I want this by continuing to return to the project, by never truly letting it drop.
I am a writer now, I wasn’t two years ago, I was a woman who blogged, who read, who dreamed, who scratched sparks of inspiration into notebooks and if she didn’t catch her ideas they disappeared forever, fragmentary sentences melting like mist.
I have had to learn how to be a writer, how to have periods of inspiration and periods of collation. How to cluck over repeated words, how to move my hands in the imitation of feelings, to draw words from the air in condensations of elusive memory.
I have had to learn how not to give up.
It turns out that writing is turning up. It is repeated application. It is practice. I may have had talent but I have had to learn how to turn it into skill.
Writing a book is incredibly intimidating. It is scraps of story that have to be expanded to fill pages. It is a blinking cursor that remains mute. It is the chance to be a thing that you have always dreamed about, whether you are ready for it or not. I have procrastinated my whole life and I have had to take time to learn how to overcome this. Procrastination is scheduling other things so that you cannot write, such as holidays or festivals or work. Procrastination is an addiction to scrolling through Facebook, keeping the mind deadened. Procrastination is feeling like you really should eat something. Procrastination is picking up the thread of story and feeling utterly incapable of the necessary concentration. It is your brain pulling away from the effort required, shutting down, seeking to do anything but take up the yoke of creation. I have had to tape my change jar shut to stop myself from counting it.
I have learnt to keep going, to know that each day belongs to itself, has a feeling of its own and that if I stare into space and the story only increases by 200 words then that is ok. It’s just a day like that, I don’t have to give up, I am not a failure.
Although I have made the focus of my life the writing of this book, sometimes it has been hard to believe that I am capable of the feat of production. I have felt lost and overwhelmed, stumbling and mute. Sometimes the things I have had to do in order to make time to write have made the act of creation difficult. The summer I spent without electricity in a remote, secluded caravan. The way I jump from house to house, always taking care of other peoples animals, never a place to call my own; always having to pack everything together, move on. Every new place necessitated the search for the right writing spot, the place that feels comfortable, where the light falls gently, where I am not cramped.
Steadily, over the course of a year, this book has become a priority, an obsession. I didn’t know, when I want to be a writer, what writing required of me.
I drove to Pembrokeshire in March and looked at the sea, scribbling notes. I walked 100 miles of the Glyndwr’s Way again, scribbling notes. I read books by other travel writers and analysts, the best ones were by Robert Macfarlane; they gave me vivid flashes of memory, a bird hanging in the air above a cliff, sunlight diffused in storm clouds and I scribbled them as they came to mind.
At Christmas I had 25,000 words. On the 15th of June, when I printed it out, I had 90,000; after typing in the scribbled changes, I had 95,000. When I sent the first draft to my editor on the 4th of August, I had a 147,000 word manuscript. And breathe.
That is where I have been, I’ve been hiding away, doing some of the most concentrated creativity I’ve ever done in my life. And I’ve created a book out of the story you all followed. It’s the same but different, more poetic, I think, less flippant. I’ve realised I was always trying to put a brave face on when I blogged, when I shared Facebook updates. Too many exclamation marks, too many upbeat endings. I’ve written a real book, or at least the first draft and now I have sent it to my editor. It’s left me and I am sitting in the space this concentrated effort has left behind in my life, wondering what I do now.