The Writer; A Cautionary Tale


When she was a child, they told her to always have a Plan B. A back-up. Making up stories, putting down words; it was not enough to get by on. It was all right now, they said, as a hobby or a pastime, but as you get older, you will need more than that to survive.

She was never much good at anything else. Her mind wasn’t on it. They called her a dreamer and a book worm. Her mind wandered, wouldn’t settle or steady. So she flitted about, whilst they let her, from the real world and the world of her own construction. As she passed through her teenage years, she dare not tell anyone that she had a head full of voices. That they came to her at night, nudging her awake. They spoke to her in the daytime too. Their words and lives constantly interrupting her own. For this reason, she found it hard to communicate with real people, because the made-up ones were always butting in. Conversations grew too noisy and overcrowded, so she started to retreat.

Writing was her addiction, and she was a slave to it in those days. She would rush home from school, up to her room, to safety and to everything that was hers. Nothing else ever seemed as real to her as the stories she made up. In her twenties, with drink in hand, she wrote more than she had ever written before. She didn’t think about showing anyone anything, because it was all for her. She gave herself to it entirely, let it devour her completely. But this could not last, because real life was getting louder now, keeping her up and destroying her sleep.

You need to pay the bills, they told her, sort yourself out and get your head out of the clouds. No more messing about.

The woman grew up, as they asked her to do, but she never really felt comfortable in adult clothing. It always felt a bit like playing dressing up. But she played along, and played the role, and she wrote less and less, and started to believe what they told her; that it was pointless, a waste of her time.

A sense of quiet relief fell over her when the writing ended. She realised she had left it all behind now, and she was able to give herself to office duties, and court shoes, pencil skirts and handbags. The job and the home and the husband and the children and it was all a sort of happy, busy, merry-go-round. Years became nothing, time was fading out behind her, and the treadmill ran faster as the grey hairs crept in, and the lines on her face deepened.

Everything was fine in this life, in this world. She didn’t have time for writing because everyone knew there was not much time. Life was short and there was a lot to do and a short time to do it in. Because bills had to be paid, and beds had to be made, and children had to be ferried here and there, and husbands had to be fed and listened to, and dogs had to be walked, and shopping had to be bought and put away again inside the cupboards, and cobwebs had to be knocked down, and clothes had to be hung out to dry. She sounded just like everyone else when she joked about how much there was to do, how there was not enough time in the day, how a woman’s work was never done…

The only time she floundered, paused, breathed, and broke, was when an old friend or family member remembered her mad writing and asked her; whatever happened to all that? Oh and how that hurt and knocked her sideways, but anyway, life went on regardless, nights turned into days, and days ended too soon, and she was always too tired to think about anything else.

Until the day she was bored, and picked up a book instead of a celebrity magazine, and she took it to bed with her and read it, instead of watching a celebrity reality show. She couldn’t put it down, and then it came back to her, the words, the glorious, wonderful, beautiful words, the putting together of letters, the making of sentences, the evoking of feeling and thought, the making sense of this terrible, angry, pointless world.

She felt left out, left behind, shut out of her own mind, clawing and desperate to catch up. She picked up a notepad and pen the very next day and before she had even written a word, they were all there. The old stories, the people, the lives she had invented, they were all still there, itching and swelling to be heard. She thought, maybe, just maybe, it won’t hurt anyone, will it?

Still, she hid the pen and paper under the mattress and told no one what she had let loose. In time, the untold stories built up, woke up and pressed forward harder and harder, shouting out indignantly; how could you forget about us? She was writing more and more, and telling people too, and though they still scorned and dismissed, she did not care. She only listened now to the stories inside her head, begging to finally be released and set free. The pressure was magnificent and terrifying in its enormity and intensity.

But she wrote them, and emptied herself again and again, and her husband got cross and neglected, so she told him when I am done, you can have me back again.

But she did not know that it couldn’t be turned off now that it had been switched on again. The off switch was broken. The voices, the stories, the lies, fears and loves could not be shut up or holed up again, and when she was done, she was not done. For more stories came to take their place, more thoughts and ideas filled her head, and soon she was taking days off work and staying up late into the night, and writing more and more and more.

She was living and breathing it, and her husband grumbled that she was addicted, and that he would be off soon if the cobwebs got any bigger. But she didn’t care. She could barely see him or hear him now. The children had grown up and left home, and moved on, and she didn’t need to run them here and there anymore. She didn’t need to iron their school clothes on a Sunday night, or pack their lunchboxes every evening. She felt free.

But with freedom, came terror, as she realised that no matter how long she lived, there would never be enough time in life to write all of the books, to tell all of the stories. She had picked open an old wound that would now never heal. She had submitted to a hunger that could now never be satisfied. The more she wrote, the more she wanted to write, the more she needed to write. It became an agony to be away from her work. It was torture to enter real life, the real world and she flashed through it as quickly as she could, before rushing back to her stories.

The husband left one night in a fit of rage. She did not hear the door slam. She carried on writing long into the night. She slept less and less, because sleeping was time away from writing. She ate less and less, because eating was time away from writing. She didn’t pay the bills anymore, so they came to take away her things. She didn’t bat an eye when they carried out the items that now meant nothing to her. She barely reacted, burying herself in books and pens and paper.

They removed her from the house one cold and sunny day. She was wild-haired and wide-eyed and blinking at the sky. She wandered away with her notepad and pen, leaving everything behind her, feeling nothing except the desire to get the next words down. She wandered down to the beach and made a shelter there to write in.

One day she ran out of paper and pens and had no money left to buy more. By now she was lost to everyone, except herself and her words.

Her husband, taking pity, went to see her one day. He stood up on the cliff and tried to spot her down below on the sand. Finally, catching movement, he saw her there. Her hair was down to her backside, flaming in the sun, wild and scraggy, like the clothes she wore. He started to come down the steps towards her, keeping his eyes on her, wondering what she was doing out there on the sand.

As he got closer, he could finally see. The writer woman had a long stick in her hands. The writer woman was writing in the sand. Every time the waves washed up and onto the shore, the words were washed away, but she did not react, she merely wrote more.

(Author’s note; I wrote this in response to my husband’s joke that I am addicted to writing. He said why don’t you write a story about a woman that is driven mad by her need to write?)

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