I REMEMBER a creative writing class back in the mid 90s, sitting beneath flickering fluoros, having been instructed to write for 15 minutes, without lifting pen from page.
“Write whatever comes into your head,” the teacher instructed. “Don’t over-think it.”
I filled three A4 pages – wrote the words I cannot write about 400 times. It was an exercise in speed-writing rather than creativity.
Almost 20 years later and there are still days when I see a deadline looming like the headlights of a Mack truck.
And me in the middle of a blank page like a frightened rabbit.
I cannot write…I cannot write. The words still ring.
It seems like the easiest thing in the world. Make a cuppa, wheel your chair up to the computer, bang out a lazy 500 words for the Tuesday paper.
But creating anything from nothing – whether you’re a chef cooking dinner for a restaurant full of hungry diners, a bricklayer constructing a wall where one has never existed, or a lousy scribbler for a regional newspaper – takes a huge leap of faith.
Even for some of the finest scribes in the business it proved too much.
Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway – they all penned prose like no one before them, but struggled with their own troubled souls.
Confidence is a slippery fish. It ebbs and flows with the tides. Abandons you when you need it most.
Bestselling Irish author Marian Keyes confessed to her readers that she’d been knocked sideways by feelings of anxiety… terror and grief, desperation and despair.
Writing, it turns out, is one of the top 10 professions in which people are likely to suffer from depression.
A real bugger, given that it’s one of the few things I’m okay at, apart from cooking a fair risotto (chefs also make the top 10, by the way).
When despair kicks in, the first thing I often lose is my sense of context.
But I’m going to share this beautiful story with you anyway, dear reader, with no pretence of flow or cohesion.
It concerns the extraordinary Antonio Stradivari, who crafted at least 550 violins at his home in Cremona, Italy – each with its famously transcendent quality.
Some say the secret was in the varnish, but the recipe, once hidden in the Stradivari family bible, has long since been destroyed.
One of those ingredients is believed to have been finely ground particles of insect wings – so beautiful.
Some say the magic comes from traces of the master’s own sweat and the pheromones of his breath. Ah, the thought of old Antonio breathing life into his instruments.
Each surviving violin has its own personality, still. But the most remarkable part of the story – they all play their very best in the hills near Cremona.
Maybe we’re all at our best the closer we are to home.