Thursday 23 April 2009


What has illness got to do with writing? you may ask. I will give you an answer in a minute.

I am a person who is very impatient with sickness. My children were sent to school no matter how tired or pale they looked. If they had no temperature they could go to school. Occasionally I would get a phone call from the school, ‘Mrs Martin, your son really is not well. He complains of a headache. He didn’t want lunch. Can you please pick him up.’ Of course I picked him up, and of course by that time he had a temperature. Did I feel guilty for sending him to school? No, because 9 out of 10 times it turned out the other way round, that he was fine once he was at school.

I was never a mother who fussed over her children when they were sick. Okay, I made sure they were neither too warm nor too cold, had enough liquid to drink, but after that I expected them to stay in bed and sleep. For this very reason my children never pretended to be ill, nor did they want to stay at home when they got better. It was just too boring. Sick children weren’t allowed TV or running around, or eating sweets and biscuits.

My husband more or less gets the same treatment when he comes down with flu. I will serve the regular lemon and honey drink and otherwise ignore him.
I don’t seem to possess one ounce of nurse material.

Likewise I don’t like being ill myself. I try not to stay in bed unless I absolutely have to. I resent every day spent without energy, yet I know recovery can’t be forced, no matter how hard I try.

And here comes the answer to the question: What has illness got to do with writing? Sometimes the creative energy is as low as the physical one. I feel sick in a different way, but helpless quite in the same way as if struck down with flu. No matter how much I want to finish that chapter/that story/that novel, it cannot be forced. The character doesn’t let me know what is going to happen next. I have to wait. I can try and force a move-on by engaging in activities that will enhance creativity (in my case I will opt for walking in nature, doing yoga, reading Qur’an, listening to music) but quite often that will only help to calm down my impatience rather than speed up recovery. The advice of many creative writing tutors, to just sit down at the computer and write, even if it is rubbish, doesn’t work for me.

It has just taken me over six years to finish telling the stories of nine of the twenty-five prophets mentioned in the Qur’an. This doesn’t mean that I wasn’t writing other things, but this project had me sick a lot. You can compare it with having an injury. You hurt your ankle while running. The doctor tells you not to run for a while. He tells you to swim or cycle, but no running. You simply have to wait until that ankle is healed.

The waiting, the recovering, the healing, is the most difficult part in writing. It means trusting the creative process, trusting your ability as a writer, and trusting that the story will be told eventually. Just because you are not running now doesn’t mean you won’t be in a month’s time. Keep trying but don’t blame yourself if you fail.

No comments: