Friday, 1 February 2013

Escaping from Reality

I've often heard authors say that writing is their escape from reality, even to the extent that some consider it an indulgent pleasure. Frankly, I'm a bit jealous of people that can look at it that way - as regular readers will know, it doesn't generally work out that way for me. In fact, I've often found writing more of a punishment than a pleasure. It was therefore with interest that I read Matt Haig's recent post, in which he describes how he escaped the destructive power of his depression through writing.

For my own part, though, I found it very hard to write my way out of depression – it was like being in a deep, slippery pit and what I really needed was a ladder, not words. It wasn't until I was in recovery that I found the compulsion to write again – before that it had (like everything else) seemed a supremely pointless activity. Never say never, though, and it was in the spirit of experimentation that I tried using writing to escape from reality when I was sat in the dentist's chair yesterday. Of course, I couldn't physically write, or even talk, but that couldn't stop me thinking about a story could it?

I'll answer that question in a minute, but for context it's worth talking about what a good writing week I've had. My current book is moving along nicely and I've found the technique of alternating writing and drawing storyboards to be immensely helpful in getting over writer's block. This week I also wrote a short story, for the first time in four years! It was a great experience that made me wonder why I didn't write them more often; it was such a buzz to finish something in a single day and, even better, the person I wrote it for really liked the end result.

So, back to the chair. My dentist has assured me that I won't need an anaesthetic and I'm gripping the armrests as he drills into my molar. I know that my expectation of pain is probably far worse than the actuality, so I try to focus on something else. Another short story idea pops into my head and, for long seconds, I lose myself in possibility. Then I'm jolted back to reality by the dentist asking if I'm OK. Perhaps my lack of frantic squirming has made him worry that I've passed out. I attempt a small noise of assent and he goes back to his work while I return to mine. Later, he takes a photo of my drilled-out tooth and shows it to me, but sadly my mouth is too full of various probes and bits of metal to make a suitably sarcastic comment.

By the end of the appointment, I've sifted through ideas and mentally composed a few bits of prose. The act of writing has made a difficult situation easier, and in my small way I've begun to see what Sally Poyton was getting at in her quietly devastating follow up to Matt Haig's post. Maybe all I actually need to do is simply give myself permission to enter the fugue state where stories are made, regardless of the situation I find myself in?

Anyway, I'll keep experimenting, though I'm not due back at the dentist now for another six months. Perhaps I can find a less painful situation to escape from. Maybe one involving cake?



  1. Huge sympathy - I'm terrified of the dentist's chair even though I have a lovely dentist who quotes from Finding Nemo. Excited for you about your short story. We all need a break.

  2. Ouch! I hate going to the dentists almost as much as I hate going to the hairdressers! Interesting that you found some peace in retreating into your imagination. Creativity as pain relief!