I’m not entirely sure what happened. It was September, 2013. I bent to tie my shoelaces. When I looked back up, a year had passed.
In truth, it was a year of trials. I had a computer science degree to finish, which, combined with work, the loss of loved ones, and your garden variety existential wandering/emotional jibber-jabber/occasional life choice to reckon with, did wonders for my writing—wonders, of course, in the sense that it murdered it. Regardless, I think I did well, life-wise. A-, B+. I’m more driven, more organised, a touch more cynical, cursed with an insatiable craving for burritos, but relatively intact and one jeans size smaller, to boot. (Shoe size remains unchanged.)
Though I did try: a meditation on Zadie Smith and love stands at 500 words, waiting for me to brave bringing it whole into being; an exploration of my Arabic identity, clocking at 1000 words, needs direction and major rewriting; the first pages of short stories blot my hard drive, ideas tossed-off by a maniacal printer. Small things, there and there. I had other priorities.
Priorities are now dealt with, well and permanently. Hi! I’m back. And at something of a loss. I feel like the guy who left the party to help his mother with some minor computer problem and returned to find himself at the climax of Carrie. Because although I left the year with a firm understanding of my writing voice (slightly melancholy, tongue occasionally placed in-cheek; see the Hemingway section in “Writers like boats on fire“), I’m now supposed to be an adult. I mean, adulthood, generally, the 1-2-3, is easy. I pay my bills on time and meet my deadlines and communicate honestly and openly with any coworkers. I try being an insurmountable professional (not exactly helped by telling people about this blog). I shoulder my responsibilities. But there’s a certain liberty to screw-up in small ways that comes with being a university student which, in spending five years doing a four year course (I make no excuses; I wasn’t always responsible), you get used to and that, now, as a shaven, full-fledged adult, you’re expected to shrug off. It’s the price of your degree. Slick haircuts and tidy suits, suave as a Wall Street broker. I didn’t learn this stuff doing object-oriented programming. There’s all this uncertainty I’m supposed to have now put in-check—diplomatically, as adults do—then be on my way to attend all this adult stuff.
Still, I write; there’s a solace in that. You kindle that fire by being alive. You meet new people, have dinner with friends. You go to the gym, discover new music, enjoy the change of seasons. You read new books and expand your vocabulary, learn to write more evocatively and economically, to carefully choose words from the subtle place between slim and slender. You find your triumphs and your occasional despairs. And in the beats between moments wonderful and mundane, you appreciate. So you write. Any snark gets neatly tidied-up and framed into irony, the requirement of the age. (On most days you end-up imitating David Simon, a claim I’m perfectly aware this post does not support.) You write, always, honestly, and hope the writing speaks truthfully in turn. You try to find your voice. You pick-up that melting pot of influences and inspirations—Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon, Flannery O’Connor, your favourite Staves song and that New Orleans jazz number you just learned—and pour out the result to hammer into something wholly your own.
But I’ve arrived—more driven, organised, burrito-craving etc.,—at an age of creative opportunity cost. There’s an issue of what I’m supposed to be doing (writing, tutoring, sleeping), what I am doing (editing, tutoring, in denial about my writing-induced insomnia), and the lack of output that hides the fact I am squeezing, as much as humanly possible with my workload, all the lemons life has thrown at me by writing with the relentless tenacity of a physicist staring into the jaws of the universe in whatever time I can steal. At this point I’m hoping I pull a Neil Gaiman (I don’t blame you for imagining Neil deGrasse Tyson) and drop a truckload’s worth of work, suddenly finished, on people. (How did you do that? they’ll ask. NBD, I’ll say. Das jus’ how I roll.)
Because I’ve realised that I’m running out of time. It’s finite, a precious resource you need to invest in yourself, your writing, your friends and family and loved ones. You make time to write and learn a new language and do your recipes and maybe even make a bit of time to build a castle out of toothpicks, because you’ve always wanted to, but you have to use it wisely. Because it’s hard to look back and see the decomposing footsteps of unfinished work when there’s so little to show for all the passionate love you inexorably pour. I’m 25. Charles Dickens had published The Pickwick Papers at my age, and was busily composing Oliver Twist. Zadie Smith had published White Teeth. EM Forster was writing Where Angels Fear to Tread. I’ve gotta hustle. Time is ticking. Choices are slimmer. So you plan your day more efficiently, eat dinner faster, do your workout more quickly, forego sleep for another 1000 words because the midnight oil is burning and the words spill out of you faster than you can remember them to type.
So what do you do about your uncertainties? You clamp down. As much as I’d love to write every great, tantalising work that beckons me from the bookshelves—every introspective masterpiece, groundbreaking science fiction novel, great political satire and comedy-of-manners—I’ve got to choose. Benjamin Franklin I am not. You just get on with it. Because though it’s easy to dismiss yourself as a writer if you have nothing new to say, if the story taking form, written by wrenching out where it hurts, is a cliché (so ineffective in fiction, so potentially overwhelming in real life it’s almost demeaning), easy to listen to the people who dismiss what you have so far, easy to think your insecurities as childish or unworthy, to feel the output is mediocre, and then succumb to self-doubt, it’s harder to not have anything to show for it.
It’s hard, in other words, to write about love, identity, loss, compassion and failure and grace, the sum of your small victories and big defeats, then go over them and think: this is not good enough. Yet harder still to keep it for yourself. There are great authors out there to go up against. So you acknowledge your own insecurities. You sit down. You get to work. Because ultimately, I think, none of those guys really knew what they were doing, either, and whatever choice I make, on some subconscious level, I have to believe is the right one.
Here we go, then.
Hi. My name is Karim Anani. I want to be an editor or a copywriter. In my spare time, I want to write fiction. I’m purposefully working on it. I hope you enjoy my blog.