The sun's setting just after four at the moment. It pops its head up just before eight in the morning. At the moment. The former will get earlier and the latter later before the solstice and the days once again stretch themselves out of the dark ages. After eighteen winters in Scotland (give or take one or two) you would think the pervasive dark would have no impact, or at least less impact. But no. By two-thirty I know the darkness is drawing in and I flail to finish something, anything, before it falls entirely, and feel when it does that no matter what, I could have or should have done more before the pale light departed. And so the Scottish winter feels like time unfulfilled and unfinished.
It's ridiculous, I know. The marvel of electricity allows bountiful productivity long after the sun sets. And I do work in the dark, often longer than I should. But it feels different. It's got an academic feel to it. Like doing homework or pulling that all-nighter on the essay that you need to get in by nine the next morning. Whether that's because the time of year isn't just winter but also the peak of a school year is the kind of chicken/egg pondering that I don't give a shit about. Though I'm certain that the academic feel makes it far easier to make excuses, to push it aside and crack open a bottle of something.
I can't remember which particular Scottish winter it was, but two or three of them ago I pushed my book aside. Oh, I fiddled with submission chapters, snippets. I got angst-ridden about cover letters for agents and would every couple of months or so work myself into a state about getting it sorted and would do the bare minimum before the sun set and I pushed it all aside again and distracted myself with something else, some other idea still embryonic in my head. People asked about it and I shrugged about it being kind of finished and not really feeling it at the moment and all the other reasons a school kid would put off their homework until the last possible second.
It's a strange thing to do with a book you've written. It sat in a large purple binder - sometimes next to my desk, sometimes next to my bed, untouched but to move it from one place to another. It lost meaning for me. Just a binder and not the words inside.
Last week a friend took me to see Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen's latest is charming, whimsical and, while not landmark cinema, deals with a time close to my heart. Regardless of the premise or even the movie itself, it reminded me of the writing I loved. Books of grand stories and the human condition, writers shaping words to capture a world growing bigger and just beginning to chronicle those changes. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner and Chandler and Penn Warren and Ellison and the others who embraced prose without forgetting poetry and raised the novel to high art. People who made words dance in their simplest (Hemingway) and most complex (Faulkner) arrangements. Passages that leave you breathless with their poise and perfection, winded by the words on the page. Stories so heart-rending you can't bear to turn the page and prose so compelling that you can't bear to not turn it. Books that you hold in your hands for long minutes after they're finished, heart beating strong. They've left you full and empty all at once.
Those are the fucking books they wrote.
Those are the books worth writing.
And so I sit in the dark, surrounded by drafts and rewrites and notebooks and outlines and I have found my book again and am wrestling with the words inside. The days are short but then so are most things. I cannot write the books they wrote, I can only write mine.
But I can make mine worth writing.