by Andy Sinclair
Writing is hard.
That’s the rote comment exchanged between me and my writing partner, Angie Abdou, whenever we are stuck, or have had enough on-the-page frustrations for the day, or just... don’t feel like doing it. It’s the phrase that we text or email or say to each other that requires no thinking. It’s as easy as hello, goodbye, even WTF.
Like any aphorism, it’s not universally true. Sometimes writing is as easy as sitting down and allowing it. Sometimes it occurs when you just stop trying so much (although this strategy is not foolproof either). Deciding to put down words on a page is a practice that requires being comfortable with the idea of elusiveness. Because trying to safeguard something elusive is excruciating.
And yet, sometimes we get enough down. I’m very happy that my book Breathing Lessons is being published. It feels funny to say, “I have a book coming out,” and I usually feel like a fraud for saying it, and so I often avoid the subject completely. A book seems like something an adult would produce, and therein lies a discovery for each of us, one that we sometimes avoid: I am a grown-up now. Most of us are. But ever since Dimitri Nasrallah emailed me to say that Véhicule Press was offering to publish the manuscript and that he would be my editor at Esplanade Books, I have had to chew on it.
When I handed in the final revision, he asked if I was ready to stand by every word, and I said yes, somewhat solemnly. Does it sound like a marriage ceremony? My sister was pregnant at the time.
“Two new arrivals for the Sinclairs in 2015!” proclaimed my mother happily. It’s a lot of responsibility.
And also just a book.
Breathing Lessons is a very personal novel that describes situations that are hard to write about. I surrendered to any energy that allowed me to write freely and uncensored; afterwards I took out lots of stuff and made lots of things up, but tried to stay true to what I meant (I originally wrote that last bit and tried to keep the elusiveness, but I’ve already touched on how problematic that can be).
Since finishing it, I have bid adieu to the protagonist, Henry Moss. It was not a sad goodbye; I was ready to move on. And writing about Henry was good practice for writing down things that are hard not just to express, but to say. Henry does drugs and has lots of sex and can be jealous in a way that makes him come across as very ugly. But I wrote about those things. And now I’m writing (no new book yet!) about other things that are difficult to share, because they might make me seem disagreeable, and I would rather people find me likeable. Some of these are observations about our governments, worries about new security laws, and questions about why big industries seem to have such disproportionate input into new legislation. These topics have always been written about, and I haven’t made much headway into saying something new yet. But I wouldn’t have even started if I hadn’t had Henry to practice being scared with. So, I am grateful to him.
I’m curious about the power of fiction to make social commentary, and the way it evokes rather than describes truths. I’ve also had more time to read since the book was done, and the more I read, the more I am struck by how much people are thinking. I just finished The News by Alain de Botton and found it to be a helpful guide to selective information acquisition. And Families Are Formed Through Copulation by Jacob Wren, which makes a fitting adjunct and is a soothing balm for surveillance angst. And by the time you read this, I will be excited about something else.
Often I find something so nuanced and perfect that it makes me want to not bother with writing anymore, because I can barely follow it (sometimes I can’t), let alone try to expand on it (I have read similar statements by other writers but it deserves to be said again, for we must believe in our own adequacy if nothing else), but mostly I am just inspired. I hope we all are. I’m aware of how everybody has moments when ideas coalesce, when dots connect, or when reality becomes a speck more tangible. These revelations are unique, and some of us try to write about them. Others paint them, or put them into a dance. Many of us simply sit with them, without urgency, and accept them as they come.
But we are the grown-ups now. And I would encourage anyone with something to say, to say it. Or write it.
Even if writing is hard.